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Punishing Health Care Providers for Treating Terrorists

Access to health care is a requirement of justice, even in wartime.

Imagine that an American physician volunteered to treat wounded children through the Ministry of Health in Gaza, controlled by Hamas. Or that a Palestinian nurse attending to injured fighters in Gaza spoke out against the firing of rockets into Israel, was threatened with arrest, and sought asylum in the United States. Under U.S. law, the doctor could be subject to prosecution, and the nurse could be denied asylum—in the first case, because she provided medical care under the direction or control of a designated terrorist organization; in the second, because he knowingly provided care to a member of a terrorist organization. The question of whether a terrorist is entitled to medical care, though largely theoretical, has generated considerable discussion, with near unanimity that there is no moral basis to refuse to treat. But whether a health professional can be punished for providing medical care either to terrorists or under the auspices of a terrorist organization has received little attention from either a moral or legal perspective, although such situations arise throughout the world.