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The Deportation of Asylum Seekers as an Ethical Challenge for the Medical Profession

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The last few weeks have seen an encouraging surge in the opposition to the government’s decision to deport asylum seekers from Sudan and Eritrea who have been living in Israel for over a decade.

It is obvious to all members of the medical community – who meet asylum seekers in the most difficult physical and mental conditions, be it in the open clinic of Physicians for Human Rights Israel (PHRI) or in hospitals throughout the country – that the decision to deport them will deal a harsh blow to those whose mental and physical wounds have only just begun to heal. It is just as obvious that as healthcare professionals, we are all bound by oath to protect our patients.

Our call to revoke the medical license of Director General of the Population and Immigration Authority Prof. Shlomo Mor Yosef led to an attack by Minister of the Interior Aryeh Deri and Deputy Minister of Health Yaakov Litzman on PHRI and others, who called for his resignation.

The position paper Deporting Asylum Seekers as an Ethical Challenge to the Medical Profession deals precisely with this question: What is a physician’s obligation towards her or his patients from among the asylum seekers? Indeed, what is the unique role of the Ministry of Health given a government policy hostile to the undocumented persons living among us? Can a physician play a role in such a policy?

It could be argued that Prof. Mor Yosef current official role and his being a doctor are unrelated. We argue that the fact that this role is performed by a physician taints the entire profession. Moreover, Mor Yosef himself uses the fact that he is a doctor to argue that he brings to his position consideration for the deportees medical and social rights. Obviously, however, his acts, if any, and his words in that regard only serve as a fig leaf for a bureaucratic apparatus that is not in the least concerned with humanity.

We argue that precisely in view of the growing harshness of immigration policies in Israel, the US and Europe, and given that physicians have sworn an oath to protect their patients, it is not only the right of physicians and other health professionals to oppose the deportation – it is their duty.

The oath “to protect them against harm and injustice” does not include an exception clause or footnote that details circumstances that relieve them from that obligation, such as the changing winds in the corridors of power.