Closest Witnesses to the Events are Physicians PDF Print E-mail
Friday, 20 September 2013 14:43

altOn 27 July 2013 the General Directorate of Security sent an official writing to the Turkish Medical Association (TMA).

18 September 2013

In its writing, the General Directorate of Security said it conducted an investigation upon assertions that 12 persons lost their eyes during Gezi demonstrations and, after having found that there were 3 such persons, asked the TMA who the others were in order to start an investigation about those who were responsible for these damages. It was of course impossible for the TMA to disclose the identities of these patients without their explicit consent and the TMA accordingly replied to the General Directorate explaining this confidentiality.

Upon this reply, there appeared news in some daily papers targeting the TMA and ethics of the profession of medicine.

On 18 September 2013 a joint TMA-Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (TİHV) press conference was held at the TMA on the issue. Participants to the press conference included TMA Vice President Gülriz Erişgen, TMA Secretary General Bayazıt İlhan and TİHV Secretary General Dr. Metin Bakkalcı. 

Closest Witnesses to the Events are Physicians

As the closest witnesses of the victims of brutal attacks, we physicians are raising our voice against this police violence taking place before all of us!

Recently, Turkey is experiencing brutal police attacks witnessed not only by the citizens of the country but by the whole world. The police targeted peaceful demonstrations by using chemical agents and tear gas and millions of people have been, directly or indirectly, both witnesses and victims of this police violence.

Thousands of people were wounded by pressure water, tear gas canisters, plastic bullets and other instruments of violence used in the mode of torture and maltreatment.

The Ministry of Interior itself stated in its “Gezi Report” that close to 4,000 people were wounded only in the first half of June as reflected in the media on 23 June 2013.

Data related to the health status of demonstrators that the Turkish Medical Association (TMA) collected from individual physicians and local chambers of medicine served as a valuable source of information. In addition to this, information about applications to the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (TİHV) will also be illuminating. As of 8 September 2013, of thousands of people facing police violence there were 297 persons applying to five rehabilitation centres of the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey for treatment/rehabilitation and documentation purposes after torture and/or maltreatment  in Gezi Park demonstrations. These applications involve cases including head trauma, fractures (cranium, nasal bone, bones around eyes, hands and arms, ankle, rib, teeth), and skin lacerations on various parts of the body, soft tissue traumas and various psychological problems including Acute Stress Disorders in the first place. Of these 297 cases, unfortunately five resulted in total globe loss as a result of police violence.  Two cases suffer from visual loss as a result of head trauma while their treatment is continuing. Surgical operations were undertaken and treatment is continuing in two cases of glob perforation and three cases of retinal detachment. One case suffers from severe corneal injury. Besides, there were tens of patients suffering temporary sight loss as a result of high pressure water and head trauma. Even applications to the TİHV alone and 13 cases of eye/visual loss reveal the dimensions that brutal police attacks reached although these represent a limited part of the visible side of brutal police violence.

It is clear that even the cases of sight loss among applications made to the TİHV which constitutes a small proportion of thousands of injuries point out to a problem that goes much beyond TMA data.

The Turkish Medical Association conducted a survey covering 11,155 respondents titled “Evaluation Report on Health Problems Faced by Persons Exposed to Chemical Riot Control Agents.” According to responses to and findings of the survey, the rate of hospital application or referral is around 5%. This suggests that there is a significant group who avoid applying to health facilities for concerns about being “blacklisted” and/or prosecuted.

Beyond the possibility of reaching relevant records through an ordinary internet search, each and every scene of this violence experienced is still alive in memories of many.

While the case is as clear as this, some media organs failing to report on correct, impartial and objective grounds and avoiding any reporting on police violence and violations of rights starting from the first day of Gezi/Taksim demonstrations now dare launching news with captions such as “Medical Rhetoric”, “Gezi Silence and “Gezi Lies by the Turkish Medical Association”.

As observed in the case of the media organs mentioned above, trying in an unethical and inhumane manner to carry the issue to a ‘simple’ debate on numbers in order to make brutal police aggression ‘invisible’ or ‘legitimize’ it indicates the dimension that the loss of ethical values has assumed.

In compliance with responsibilities that a professional organization must observe, the TMA shares with the public unbiased and reliable information related to persons wounded and suffered harm in social events while strictly abiding by the fundamental principles of our profession. “First don’t harm”, beneficence, informed consent and autonomy and fairness protected by the obligation of the physician to keep personal patient information confidential are the four fundamental ethical principles in professional practice. It is for this reason that information collected by the TMA in the latest process is without personal information of patients.

We physicians and health workers as members of a profession dedicated to protecting and improving human life have been the closest witnesses of the victims of brutal police aggression all over the country. We fulfilled the duties of our profession in an environment called “extraordinary circumstances”.

The ruling government has the responsibility of eliminating all barriers that stand between thousands of people suffering man made physical and psychological trauma and justice. Yet, through the Ministry of Health, General Directorate of Security and some media organs, the government is trying to target physicians and the TMA, who provide healthcare services in the face of all attacks while denying the right of the public to learn facts. Well before these latest attempts, the Ankara Directorate of Security had in a sense “indexed” TMA and Ankara Chamber of Medicine. As known by the public over some case files, Ankara Security Directorate, a part of your General Directorate, declared TMA and Ankara Chamber of Medicine in its report as “civil society organizations in opposition to the Government” together with many other professional organizations and trade unions. Charges brought against TMA and Ankara Chamber of Medicine in this report include “mobilizing public support to activist groups, exerting psychological pressure on the judiciary and Ankara Security Organization and encouraging individual complaints to prosecutors for so called disproportionate use of force by the police.” Now we observe, unfortunately, that the same approach still persists with police and media pressure over physicians and TMA.

It is not the first time that the TMA and TİHV face such pressures. These two organizations enjoy their worldwide prestigious status as a result of their consistent and ethical stance in critical periods and their compliance with rules adopted by international human rights organizations and the World Medical association.

It must be known by all that medical services are delivered in line with strict ethical principles. The obligation to keep personal information confidential is essential in sustaining trust in patient-doctor relations. No medical information can be used at the expense of human dignity and values. The media too is obliged to act responsibly in such extraordinary situations and to avoid taking sides.

In an environment of gross violations affecting all segments of society, the ruling government must keep its hands off organizations working for the health and welfare of citizens, and given hundreds of criminal complaints, remain loyal to its essential duty of ensuring effective, impartial and independent judicial processes to bring perpetrators before justice on the basis of United Nations’ Paris Principles instead of tragicomic writings by the General Directorate of Security.

Turkish Medical Association
Human Rights Foundation of Turkey

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