Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Boundary Problems

Interesting controversy at the American Psychological Association (APA) about whether its members should participate in interrogation of military detainees.

Before launching into a vigorous defense or condemnation of the APA's August 20, resolution or its latest statement (August 16, 2008), persons interested in the issue would do well to read the background correspondence.

If nothing else, it shows that principled and reasonable people can be of two minds, and it highlights complex relationships such as those between law and psychiatry, and those between a nation's code of law and international law.

But to me, it comes down to this: It is not within a healer's ethical practice to monitor or refine or seek to ameliorate or participate in or plan or advise on interrogation techniques. As soon as the question is posed, the boundary safeguarding ethical healing practice has begun to be breached.

Let's make it clearer. It's not the job of a surgeon to monitor or refine or seek to ameliorate or participate in or plan or advise on interrogation techniques. Now we can see a key hidden assumption at work. It is that there exists some surgical operation that would fall within ethical medical practice if used in interrogation.

Clearly there isn't. Nor is there some operation in clinical psychiatry or psychology that would fall within ethical medical practice if used in interrogation. The concepts "interrogation" and "ethical medical practice" are mutually exclusive.

APA would be correct, IMHO, to ban any form of collaboration with interrogation on the part of its members.

This isn't a question of patriotism. Anyone who's mixed up about that needs to drill down and enquire whether there's any line he or she would draw if told to defend the country. If not, you're a sucker for manipulation who's standing on a banana peel at the top of the slope to Holocaust.

And that, in a word, is my problem with George Bush's notion of patriotism. Out of his notion of patriotism flow the unitary presidency floating above the Constitution and our Code of Law; illegal domestic spying; privatized detention camps unbound by any meaningful oversight; personal, private mercenary armies deliberately written out of the reach of military and civilian law; and, of course, the politics of swiftboating, to say nothing of torture, black holes, and renditions.

It's all of a piece. If there are no boundaries, there are no boundaries. It's straight downhill from here.


Right Wing Reader said...

Any doctor performing an abortion breaks his/her Hippocratic oath. That said, I believe that anyone not wanting to perform a procedure because they have a reasonable moral opposition to it should be allowed to not do it. For me that includes doctors and pharmacists who refuse to administer abortion pills. If psychologists don't want to interrogate people, I'm fine with that. Interrogation is probably more effective without them around anyway.

Black holes??

PICO said...

Dear RWR,

Thanks for your comment. You knew when you wrote that I wouldn't accept your premises or assumptions.

I'm grateful that I'm not at your tender mercy. But I'm curious: Are there any other of your personal religious beliefs that you'd like to force me to live by?


Right Wing Reader said...

Hum, interesting. I don't believe I espoused any religious beliefs, simply philosophical ones. But, since you opened the door, there are many beliefs that you already live by, or at least probably do, because they are laws. Thou shall not kill, thou shall not steal, marriage laws...I can go on all day. This is a Christian nation, and many of our laws reflect that. You know all of this.

PICO said...

Dear RWR,

This is a nation of laws. Ultimately, ours derive from Hamurabi.

I'm not aware that it's a "Christian" nation. My reading of US history tells me otherwise--as does a 230+/- year US legal tradition.

History also tells me that "Christian" is not the sole modifier of "law."

Last but not least, my reading of history and my experience of life tell me eloquently that being a Christian is no assurance that one will respect or obey our laws, much less Jesus' teachings.

But you know what? I'm not here to argue with you.