Ethics of medicalized weapons questioned

A new report raises questions as to the ethics of so-called medicalized weapons, which are biological weapons meant to incapacitate rather than kill, and the implications of medical personnel designing, manufacturing and testing such weapons.

The latest issue of the Hastings Center Report takes aim at these new battlefield weapons, which could make fighting insurgents an easier proposition.

Medicalized weapons are nonlethal and rely on recent advances in neuroscience, physiology and pharmacology. The goal of a medicalized weapon is to reduce casualties, especially in the case of so-called asymmetric wars wherein nations are fighting insurgent forces.

"Not since international law prohibited the development and use of biological and chemical weapons (in 1972 and 1993, respectively) have medical personnel been so directly involved with the design, manufacture, and testing of a weapon," Michael L. Gross, a professor of political science and chair of the Division of International Relations at the University of Haifa, Israel, writes.

"Rather than disabling or killing enemy forces by causing traumatic injury, nonlethal weapons temporarily incapacitate their targets by causing physical distress, disorientation, or unconsciousness."

Gross argues that even though the principles of medical ethics require that practitioners do no harm, these new types of biological weapons, in the long run, will reduce casualties and protect civilians while causing only temporary harm.