Doctors in detention and the Hippocratic Oath

Meera Selvakone, MD

Family physician
Richmond Hill, Ont.

Every year, many newly qualified doctors recite the Hippocratic Oath upon graduating. But how many of us would actually put those words to the test if our own lives were in jeopardy? Half a world away, three physicians faced this dilemma.

During the first five months of 2009, an intense war played out in the densely populated coastline of northeastern Sri Lanka. More than 300 000 civilians were trapped between battle lines. A government-imposed media blackout meant the world was largely unaware of what the United Nations called a “bloodbath.”

I solemnly pledge to consecrate my life to the service of humanity. I will practice my profession with conscience and dignity.1

Doctors Thangamuthu Sathiyamoorthy, Thurairajah Varatharajah and Veerakaththi Shanmugarajah were employed by the government to work in the conflict zone. Dr. Shanmugarajah might easily have been working in a peaceful nation; several years ago, he emigrated to Canada only to return to Sri Lanka to serve the developing nation.

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CMAJ • November 10, 2009; 181 (10). First published October 19, 2009; doi:10.1503/cmaj.091527
© 2009 Canadian Medical Association

Image courtesy of Fred Sebastian