Prisoners and detainees have a right to humane treatment

1 Nov 2020

AMA Position Statement on Medical Ethics in Custodial Settings

The AMA today released its Position Statement on Medical Ethics in Custodial Settings.

The Position Statement details the AMA position that prisoners and detainees in custodial settings have a right to humane treatment, regardless of the reasons for their imprisonment, and should be treated with respect for their human dignity and privacy.

AMA President, Dr Steve Hambleton, said that prisoners and detainees should have the same right of access, equity, and quality of health care as the general population.

“Medical practitioners must have complete clinical independence in deciding upon the care of a prisoner or detainee for whom she or he is medically responsible,” Dr Hambleton said.

“The doctor’s fundamental role is to alleviate the distress of his or her fellow human beings, and no motive – whether personal, collective, or political – should prevail against this role.

“Participation in any form of torture or cruel, inhumane or degrading procedure is incompatible with the doctor’s role as healer.”

The Position Statement addresses other issues including:

·        the role of treating and non-treating doctors in the custodial setting;

·        consent and confidentiality;

·        body cavity searches;

·        hunger strikes;

·        solitary confinement;

·        restraints;

·        medical research;

·        speaking out; and

·        capital punishment.

The AMA Position Statement on Medical Ethics in Custodial Settings 2013 is available at

It should be read in conjunction with the AMA Position Statement on Health and the Criminal Justice System 2012, which is available at

9 April 2013

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