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Advocate Hopeful "Torture" Legislation Will Move Forward In Albany

As the legislative session winds down in New York, there's an eleventh hour push to promote a measure that would prevent and protect health professionals from participating in torture - WAMC's Capital Region Bureau Chief Dave Lucas spoke this morning with Dr. Allen Keller, Director of the Bellevue/NYU Program for Survivors of Torture, who is in Albany today in support of the bill.

The legislation is sponsored by Assemblyman Dick Gottfried and Senator Hoylman is aimed at preventing torture and abuse of prisoners under the watch of licensed health care professionals. Dr. Keller, how would this happen?

"Well, there's several ways a health professional can participate. First of all, health professionals have monitored many forms of abuse that are clearly torture. For example, waterboarding. Health professionals have also been the ones who said such abusive methods are safe and effective. Basically giving it the 'white coat stamp of approval.'  Here in New York, where we know unfortunately prisoner abuse is a problem, many health professionals who want to do the right thing, working in a small jail, in some part of the state, may want to document this, and this bill requires that prisoner abuse be reported and a guard may say 'well, he fell. That's what's I'd like you to write.' So, we believe this bill is not punitive, this is preventive. This is giving health professionals a tool to say 'I cannot participate in prisoner abuse, and I must report, because otherwise I could lose my license."

And, Dr. Keller, you're in Albany today to lobby for this legislation?

"Yes, we've been coming up to Albany this entire session. And the we is myself, many other colleagues and much to my great pride, dozens of future health professionals: medical students, psychology graduates. A real cross from our future health professionals. Also we have half a dozen retired generals, many of whom are Republican, who support the bill. They get that this bill is good for our soldiers and our military. Also, Ronald Reagan's former Secretary of State, George Schultz, supports the bill. So this is not a political issue. This is about doing what's consistent with American values, helping keep our troops safe by not feeding propaganda about horrible things we do to the enemy, and also soldiers who are encouraged, coerced to participate in such things, often have higher rates of post-traumatic stress. So, even if in the field you do something that you think is the right thing, when you know its wrong and you come back it haunts you."

Are lawmakers taking this up for a vote today?

"The bill is in the rules committee of the assembly. It's those last frenetic hours of the session. We are very confident the bill will pass in the assembly, and we think it has a good chance in the senate as well. Last year, the bill was pulled in the last half hour of session because individuals making these decisions were concerned this might cause problems for - quote - 'vulnerable upstate democrats.'  So we went and talked to every upstate democrat, every upstate representative we could. Most were strongly supportive of the bill.  Even those who were not said, well, maybe choice, gun control are swing issues, torture, and I remember one member said 'I don't know ho's for it,' this isn't something that's gonna swing votes. So this is an issue I believe that as New Yorkers, as Americans, we can all get behind. That torture is wrong, health professionals have a crucial role to play in preventing it and this bill enables and empowers them to do so."

Dr. Keller is recognized internationally as an expert in the documentation, evaluation and treatment of victims of torture and other human rights abuses.  Keller provided WAMC with the following documentation:

Prevent and Protect Health Professionals from Participating in Torture

(A.4440 Gottfried/ S.2397 Hoylman)


Bill A.4440/ S.2397: Prohibits participation in torture and improper treatment of prisoners by health care professionals; prohibits a health care professional from engaging, assisting, planning the torture or improper treatment of a prisoner; requires health care professionals to report torture and improper treatment.

Why Bill A.4440/ S.2397 is important:

        ? This legislation will ensure that health professionals, including those serving in the military, uphold their professional ethics including not participating in torture.  The bill provides a means by which health professionals working in difficult, potentially coercive environments, can refuse an order to directly or indirectly participate in improper treatment of U.S. detainees.

        ?  Health care professionals who participate in torture commit grave violations of their professional standards and ethics.  This legislation codifies that physicians must  uphold the fundamental ethical principle “Do No Harm.”  Violation of this basic tenent constitutes professional misconduct and can result in loss of licensure. 

        ?  The State is the appropriate venue for such legislation given that in order for U.S. health professionals to practice anywhere (domestically or internationally) they must have a State-issued License. This legislation is necessary to protect prisoners, patients, and the profession from those health care professionals who would use their special skill and training to harm others.



Support Bill A.4440/ S.2397 because:


1. This bill is not a political or partisan issue.

            ?  At its core, this bill is a professional issue of oaths and fiduciary duty, and it validates                               the professionalism of a physician.

            ?  It protects doctors, soldiers and civilian doctors from legal recourse on their licensure for   refusing to participate in torture or prisoner abuse.

            ?  It forces licensing bodies to hold physicians accountable and gives actual   consequences.

2. Adopting this standard is in the best interest of the state and the nation.

        ?  Not only is torture ineffective at eliciting useful intelligence, it feeds our enemies propaganda- unnecessarily putting our troops in harm's way.

        ?  Similarly there is data that shows that soldiers who participate in these activities are negatively impacted.

3. Medical students would be proud to be licensed in a state that upholds the dignity of the medical profession

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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