Against All Odds: Maintaining Integrity in Wartime and the Conscience of a Surgeon

Reports of Ukrainian surgeons operating on Russian soldiers have elicited a variety of responses from the international community. One common response is understanding this behavior as meritorious, rooted in the duties of a physician and professionalism. Another common response is to cite the utility of this kind of treatment of the oppositional forces, noting the potential benefits that can arise, such as prison of war negotiations or the eliciting of good will. This presentation explores these two ethical analyses and finds both wanting. This is not to say that these analyses do not arrive at the correct answer – support for the physicians who cared for these patients, in spite of the moral distress and hardship that it can and may have caused the surgeons – they do. However, they do so in a manner which is either too rigid (assuming answers to other moral questions physicians fare) or too tenuous (opening up ethical justification for not treating such patients if certain external factors did not obtain). A third, albeit less common, response is then explored and argued for: that this behavior is part of that practices of a virtuous surgeon. A virtue theoretic analysis helps to make sense of this seemingly extraordinary behavior through a focus on integrity and the conscientious practices of surgeons. In so doing, it avoids the two pitfalls faced by the other two analyses and maintains support for these physicians. In making the case for the importance of virtue in understanding the role of the physician in wartime, the concept of dignity as well as the four principles of bioethics will be addressed.


Against All Odds:Maintaining Integrity in Wartime and the Conscience of a Surgeon