Doctors in Iceland will be forced to choose between obeying the law or obeying their international code of ethics if the government passes its proposed amendments to the Immigration Act, the chairperson of the Icelandic Medical Association stated in an interview with RÚV. The proposed legislation would grant Icelandic police the authority to force physical examinations on asylum seekers. The legislation was introduced by Minister of Justice Jón Gunnarsson and has been criticised by human rights organisations in Iceland.
Forced testing, physical examination, and handing over of medical records
“In this 19th article, as it is worded, the police are given very broad powers to force people to undergo various interventions: testing, physical examination, and more. And also to hand over medical records, which are sensitive, confidential information. This completely contradicts doctors’ code of ethics,” Steinunn Þórðardóttir, chair of the Icelandic Medical Association stated.
“The World Medical Association’s Declaration of Geneva [the modern-day Hippocratic Oath] reads as follows: the health and well-being of my patient will be my first consideration. We wonder how these two things can go together and actually see it as a complete impossibility. If this becomes law, we are put in the position of having to choose between complying with national law or the international code of ethics for doctors,” Steinunn remarked.
Doctors would need to believe deportation is in patient’s best interest
The Association’s formal comments on the proposed legislation strongly criticise the proposed changes. “If a foreigner that is set to be deported is forced to undergo such examination, it can be assumed the person is opposed to being deported. Individuals in this position tend to have complex issues, often due to post-traumatic stress, and are being deported back to situations where they consider their life and health to be at risk. By issuing the aforementioned certificate, a doctor would need to consider that such deportation from the country would be in the best interest of the person in question, according to the aforementioned code of ethics,” the comments read.
The comments continue: “Respect for the patient and mutual trust are the basis of medical practice. An action such as [forcing physical examination] works against patients’ interests and human rights, and we consider it to be in conflict with the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights.”