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In the News: U of M bioethicist discusses South Africa’s ‘Dr. Death’

For Steven Miles, M.D., a University of Minnesota Medical School professor and bioethicist in the University’s Center for Bioethics, the recent conviction by a medical licensing board of South Africa’s Dr. Wouter Basson, widely known as ‘Dr. Death,’ was the culmination of hard work by a lot of different people determined to do the right thing.

Basson, a cardiologist from Cape Town, was found guilty of dishonorable professional conduct for violating medical ethics for developing chemical weapons and for abetting kidnappings and murder when he directed “Project Coast” for the apartheid regime.

Miles was the lead expert for the prosecution and went to South Africa to assist and testify during the hearing. Miles was responsible for comparing Basson’s activities to World Medical Association ethics codes and also showing how Basson violated a physician’s duty to obey international law.

In the end, the Health Professions Council agreed with Miles’ testimony and said Miles “was fair, highly professional, and he had the support of pure logic.”

The Council has yet to determine a sentence which could entail Basson losing his medical license. The case sets an important precedent in saying to military physicians that medical ethics are the same in war and peace and that crimes of war have no statute of limitations.

Read more about the case and Miles’ involvement in this Star Tribune article by Maura Lerner.

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