Battlefield euthanasia - courageous compassion or war crime?

Med J Aust. 2011 Mar 21;194(6):307-9. doi: 10.5694/j.1326-5377.2011.tb02980.x.


Issues relating to voluntary euthanasia that are currently being debated by Australian society are distinctly different from those encountered by battlefield doctors. Doctors in war undertake to treat those affected by conflict; their participation in euthanasia challenges the profession's definition of "duty of care". Euthanasia must be distinguished from "triage" and medical withdrawal of care (which are decided within a medical facility where, although resources may be limited, comfort care can be provided in the face of treatment futility). Battlefield euthanasia is a decision made, often immediately after hostile action, in the face of apparently overwhelming injuries; there is often limited availability of pain relief, support systems or palliation that would be available in a civilian environment. The battlefield situation is further complicated by issues of personal danger, the immediacy of decision making and difficulties with distinguishing civilians from combatants. Regardless of the circumstances on a battlefield, doctors, whether they are civilians or members of a defence force, are subject to the laws of armed conflict, the special provisions of the Geneva Conventions and the ethical codes of the medical profession.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Attitude of Health Personnel*
  • Australia
  • Conflict of Interest
  • Empathy / ethics
  • Euthanasia, Active / ethics*
  • Euthanasia, Active / trends
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Liability, Legal
  • Male
  • Military Medicine / ethics*
  • Military Medicine / methods
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians'
  • War Crimes / ethics
  • Warfare*