April 23, 2024

800 bioethicists denounce US Govt treatment of migrant children

Facilities are deplorable and horrific, they claim

Migrants surrender to border guards / Mani Albrecht / U.S. Customs and Border Protection

In May migrant apprehensions on the US-Mexico border reached a 13-year high. Lawyers have alleged that Texas migrant holding facilities for the migrants are overcrowded and unsanitary. Media reports have described conditions as “deplorable”, “unsafe”, “unsanitary”, unhygienic” and “horrific” – which are denied by border authorities, or excused as temporary aberrations.

A letter signed by 837 bioethicists has been given to lawyers representing the interests of children in detention. It denounces the way that they are allegedly being treated and demands that the Trump Administration protect them and give them proper care. Here are some excerpts:

* * * * * * * *

We are experts in medical ethics who have devoted our careers to rigorous analysis of challenging ethical issues relevant to health and well-being, to advancing the ethical treatment of all people and especially the most vulnerable, and to examining historical failures to uphold basic ethical principles so that we can prevent future atrocities. It does not take any special expertise, however, to recognize that the conditions in which children are being detained at U.S. border facilities are ethically abhorrent and demand immediate remediation.

According to numerous reports from on-site visits and interviews, children and others under the care ofthe U.S. government are being held in unsanitary conditions, without access to clean water or adequate nutrition, kept in frigid temperatures without the basic environmental conditions to allow them to sleep, and denied access to even the simplest emergency medical care. There have been outbreaks of influenza and lice; in the absence of basic sanitation, other public health threats will surely follow. As ethicists, we can say with absolute certainty that this is not a hard case. We should not have to convince the U.S. government of its obvious ethical obligations to protect vulnerable children in its custody or of its obvious failure to satisfy those obligations to date. And yet, it appears that argument is needed …

History has demonstrated the dangers in treating any person as less than human. As bioethicists, we feel a deep responsibility to call out such dangerous behavior, especially when it is being carried out by our own government. No matter where they came from, these are children, the most vulnerable members of any society. As a matter of common decency, they deserve care, protection, and acknowledgment of their humanity. As a matter of medical ethics, they deserve to be housed in conditions that will preserve their health and the health of others, and they deserve appropriate medical care when needed …

What is legal is not always ethical, but in this context, the U.S. government is behaving neither legally or ethically.

Michael Cook is editor of BioEdge

Creative commons