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Much of bioethics is founded on the principles of autonomy, beneficence, non-maleficence, and justice. But when bioethics and military ethics combine, many of these principles seem to be compromised. In large part, this is due to the military setting, with its unique requirements, in particular the obligation to obey all legal orders.
Military Ethics
Dr Stephen Coleman (Senior Lecturer in Ethics and Leadership, School of Humanities
and Social Sciences & Program Director, Military Ethics at the Australian Centre for the
Study of Armed Conflict and Society, University of New South Wales, Canberra) and
Rev. Nikki Coleman (Ph.D. student and Adjunct Lecturer in the School of Humanities
and Social Sciences, University of New South Wales, Canberra).
Abstract and Introduction
In bioethics there are thought to be some essentially universal truths which are held, mainly
in regards to autonomy, consent, and sharing the burden of risk. However, norms such as
these do not necessarily apply in the intersection between bioethics and military ethics, which
thus raises issues worthy of significant consideration. This entry will be split in to two main
parts. The first part will explore what military ethics is in regards to the main ethical tradition
of the justice of war. The second part will explore the particular issues that occur in regards
to bioethics within the military setting. It should be noted that for the purposes of this entry,
the term ‘soldier’ will be used to refer generically to all military personnel, including airmen
and women, sailors, marines etc.
Keywords : Military ethics, just war theory, jus ad bellum, jus in bello, discrimination,
proportionality, legal orders, medical experimentation, Feres doctrine, soldier, triage,
confidentiality, animals.
1: Military Ethics
There are three main points of view regarding the ethics of war. Pacifists argue that war (and
indeed killing more generally) is never justified. Realists argue that the ideas of ethics do not
apply to international relations in general and to international armed conflicts in particular.
Just war theorists argue that in some cases states (and some non-state groups) are justified
in engaging in armed conflict, provided certain conditions are met before the use of armed
force is resorted to, and provided that certain limitations, which are designed to limit the
destructiveness of this use of armed force, are followed. Given the evils of the world and the
crimes of mass atrocity which have been committed, including such things as genocide and
ethnic cleansing, the pacifist claim that it is ALWAYS wrong to engage in warfare is difficult to
sustain. It is also difficult to understand the realist claim that the ideas of ethics simply do not
apply to international relations, when those ideas do apply to all other forms of human
interaction. Thus it is just war theory which is, by far, the dominant theory with regard to the
ethics of war. The just war theory which is discussed in the world today has evolved out of a
long tradition of thought which stretches back at least to Ancient Greece and incorporates
ideas from many different writers and many different cultures. In modern times the most
comprehensive statement of the ideas of just war theory is Michael Walzer’s book Just and
Unjust Wars (Walzer, 1977), which is referred to by almost all other writers on this topic.
The idea of just war theory is to provide limits on when it is appropriate to go to war in the
first place, as well as limits on how wars actually ought to be fought in those cases where
warfare is ethically justified. Just war theory is traditionally taken to have two aspects. The
first part of just war theory, jus ad bellum (justice of war) deals with when it is right to resort
to war rather than attempting to resolve a dispute by other means. Jus ad bellum suggests
that there are 6 conditions which must be fulfilled in order for a state (or state-like entity) to
be justified in going to war.
1. The state must have a just cause. Usually these days it is thought that the only just
cause is defence against aggression; defending yourself from aggression, defending
someone else who is defenceless against aggression and so on.
2. The state must have the right intention in going to war, in that it may only go to war
because of this just cause.
3. Whoever is declaring war must have the proper authority to do so, and must make a
public declaration of war. The basic idea here is that only certain people, such as the
Head of State, have the appropriate level of authority to declare war and thus that
war cannot be declared by, for example, some junior officer on the front line.
4. War must be a last (reasonable) resort. A state needs to have tried every other
reasonable option before deciding that it will resort to war.
5. A state is only justified in going to war if there is a genuine likelihood of success. Thus
a war which has little chance of improving the situation is not going to be ethically
6. That the war must obey the requirement of proportionality. The benefits that a state
will achieve by going to war have to actually be substantial enough to justify all the
damage and destruction which will be caused in the course of pursuing the war.
The second part of just war theory is jus in bello (justice in war) which deals with the conduct
of those who are actually fighting the war. Jus in bello suggests the fighting is only going to be
ethically justified if it meets two conditions.
1. Warfare must be discriminate. This means only attacking legitimate targets.
2. Warfare must be conducted in a manner which is proportionate. The concept here is
similar to the requirement for proportionality in jus ad bellum, however during war
the idea is that the damage which is done in any particular attack has to be limited to
what is reasonable in terms of achieving the military objective which was the aim of
that particular attack.
In recent times there has also been some discussion of a proposed third aspect of just war
theory known as jus post bellum (justice after war) and its derivative jus ex bello, which deals
with peace agreements and ending wars; essentially the business of moving from war back
into peace, especially with the aim of producing a just and lasting peace after war. This third
part of just war theory may become more significant in the future, but at this point in time it
is the principles of jus ad bellum and jus in bello which are of the most importance. In fact,
these aspects of just war theory have been so influential that parts of both jus ad bellum and
jus in bello have become incorporated into international law regarding the use of armed force.
While there is some dispute about the issue, most just war scholars argue that the ideas of jus
ad bellum and jus in bello are logically distinct and it is therefore perfectly possible for a war
to meet one of these standards without meeting both of them. This distinction is even clearer
in international law. Thus unjust or illegal wars, which fail to meet the criteria of jus ad bellum,
may be conducted in a justifiable manner, that is, in accordance with jus in bello. Similarly,
wars which are justified, in that they meet the criteria of jus ad bellum, may be conducted in
a non-justifiable manner, in that they fail to meet the criteria of jus in bello.
When discussing issues of ‘military ethics’, the main focus tends to be on the problems raised
by the principles of jus in bello. Some realists have argued that such ideas are ridiculous, and
that the only thing which matters in war is winning, in other words that all is fair in love and
war. There are several famous quotations which are often offered in support of this view,
such as General William Sherman’s “War is hell”, and “War is cruelty and you cannot refine
it”, or the Prussian Chief of Staff, General von Moltke’s suggestion that “the greatest kindness
in war, is to bring it to a speedy conclusion. It should be allowable, with that view, to employ
all means.” (Walzer, 1977). Yet even von Moltke conceded that there were in fact some limits
which ought to be applied to warfare, for the full version of the second sentence of the
quotation reads, “It should be allowable, with that view, to employ all means save those that
are absolutely objectionable.” Since a great number of the ideas of jus in bello have been
codified into international law, perhaps it can be concluded that these laws specify what von
Moltke did not; those things which ARE absolutely objectionable in war.
While there are a number of other ideas which are often discussed under the heading of jus
in bello, such as a ban on the use of prohibited weapons, or the use of methods which are
mala in se (i.e. evil in themselves), these can be seen to be derived, at least in substantial part,
from the principles of discrimination and proportionality. Thus, this discussion will focus only
on those two principles. Given the intricate link between ethics and law, it is unsurprising that
the principles of discrimination and proportionality should be found in those sections of
international law which deal with the conduct of war. While the focus of the discussion here
is on ethics rather than law, points of international law will be noted at times, since the fact
that an ethical principle has come to be established as a point of law serves to demonstrate
the importance of that ethical principle.
At their core, the idea of the principles of discrimination and proportionality represent an
attempt to limit the inevitable destruction of war. The principle of discrimination asserts that
the only appropriate targets are those concerned with the enemy’s war effort, and the
principle of proportionality claims that the damage which is done in prosecuting such targets
needs to be in line with the actual military value of the target itself. Fundamentally, the
principle of discrimination requires those charged with carrying out military operations to
distinguish between legitimate and illegitimate targets. The principle is usually laid out as a
series of rules of warfare which are often discussed under the heading of non-combatant
immunity. It is this aspect of the principle which most frequently finds its way into the
international law of armed conflict, and where breaches of the principle of discrimination are
generally considered to be the most serious within those same laws. Despite many writers,
particularly lawyers, discussing non-combatant immunity and discrimination as if they were
one and the same, there is more to discrimination than non-combatant immunity, since the
principle requires that military personnel distinguish between legitimate and illegitimate
attacks not only on people but also on structures, equipment, materials and so on.
It has to be recognized that in warfare, perfect discrimination is not always possible, for
military and civilian facilities often exist side by side and enemy military personnel may be in
close proximity to civilians. So though a soldier might be attacking a legitimate military target
they can foresee that there will be civilian casualties as well. Causing the death or wounding
of non-combatants in such attacks is commonly described in military circles as collateral
damage. Collateral damage is acceptable in an attack as long as certain conditions are met,
conditions which basically coincide with those required by the doctrine of double effect (DDE).
In general terms, if a person is acting with the aim of achieving a good effect, but foresees
that their action will also produce bad consequences, it is permitted for the person to take
this action as long as certain other conditions are met. In military terms, what this means is
that if a soldier is doing something which is ordinarily permissible in war, e.g. attacking a
legitimate target, and is doing so with a legitimate aim, e.g. intending to kill enemy troops and
not kill enemy civilians, and if the good which will be achieved is, in military terms,
proportional to the damage which will be done, then the attack may be launched, despite the
foreseen collateral damage.
As can be seen, the second principle of jus in bello, that of proportionality, is important in the
discussion of the legitimacy of collateral damage. The principle asserts that the destruction
which is being brought about by military operations must not be out of line with the good end
which is being sought through those operations. So, as military personnel go about the
business of ‘killing people and breaking stuff’ they ought to ensure that they don’t kill more
people, even enemy military personnel, or break more stuff, even enemy military equipment
and installations, than is necessary in order to achieve their objective. While this may seem
an odd claim, especially to those who are currently involved in fighting a war, it makes more
sense when it is considered in greater depth.
People rarely, if ever, go to war simply for the sake of going to war; usually there is some
particular objective being sought. Since few wars result in utter military defeat and occupation
for one of the belligerents, it has to be recognized from the time a war begins that at some
point diplomatic negotiations will probably take place. While people would obviously prefer
to negotiate from a position of strength, which means conducting a successful military
campaign, this is not the same thing as levelling undue destruction upon your enemy.
Engaging in excessive destruction, i.e. using means which are not proportional, is likely to
make your enemy resentful and thus less likely to want to negotiate a lasting peace, not to
mention the fact that a resentful enemy is likely to resist for longer, thus prolonging the war.
So the principle of proportionality can be seen as a means of attempting to ensure that a just
peace is still possible after the war has ended.
One of the ways in which the principles of jus in bello have been incorporated into
international law is through the banning of certain types of warfare. For example, there are a
number of weapons, or types of weapons, which have been banned by international
convention, either because they are seen to inflict unnecessary suffering, i.e. they are
disproportionate, or because they are seen to be indiscriminate. For example, chemical and
biological weapons and anti-personnel landmines have all been banned by international
treaties on the grounds that they are indiscriminate, and permanently blinding laser weapons
and weapons designed to produce fragments undetectable by x-rays have been banned as
being disproportionate.
2: Bioethics in the Military Setting
Bioethics in the military setting raises a number of unique issues that are not found in other
environments. These issues fall basically into three main categories; (a) issues that mainly
impact on medical professionals, (b) issues that mainly impact on soldiers, and (c) issues that
mainly impact on animals.
The requirement to for military members to follow orders makes the application of bioethics
unique in the military setting. When a person, including a member of one of the medical
professions, ‘signs up to join the military, whether as an officer or an enlisted person, they
agree to obey ALL legal orders; this is usually interpreted to be anything that is legal under
International Humanitarian Law and under the domestic law of the state in question. This
requirement has an integral role in the functioning of the military organization since it is
essential for commanders on the battlefield to have confidence that their orders have been
fully carried out, even in cases where soldiers have been ordered to kill enemy soldiers, or
where soldiers have been ordered into a situation where they may also be killed. However it
is not only on the battlefield that orders have to be followed, since the duty to follow orders
is seen to be foundational to the ‘good order and discipline’ of the military and thus applies in
all military contexts, in peacetime, in war and anywhere in between.
A person serving in the military who fails to obey a legal order faces the possibility of severe
punishments, a situation which even those in similarly dangerous occupations do not face in
the same circumstances. A police officer or person working for a private military company, for
example, may well be fired for refusing to obey an order. But military personnel under the
same circumstances are likely to end up in prison. Under the US Code of Military Justice, for
example, a soldier found guilty of disobeying a legal order during peacetime faces two years
in a military prison, followed by a dishonorable discharge (US Code of Military Justice - Article
92 e.1); if the offence occurs during time of war then the punishment can include death (US
Code of Military Justice - Article 90 e.3). In Australia, failure to obey an order can result in a
maximum term in prison of 15 years (Defence Force Discipline Act, 1982, Sect 15F).
The requirement to obey all legal orders places medical personnel and soldiers in a unique
position in regards to decisions regarding medical care. For a soldier under medical care, all
medical personnel are considered to be superior officers, and thus they are able to issue lawful
commands which must be followed; such a situation applies in all contexts, with regard to
routine medical care all the way through to medical decisions on the battlefield. Thus the only
control which soldiers have over their own medical care is that which is granted to them by
their physicians; the autonomy of soldiers as patients can be, and routinely is, ignored.
a) Military bioethical Issues that mainly effect medical personnel
There are a number of unique bioethical issues which may arise for military medical personnel,
particularly arising out of the fact that such personnel ‘serve two masters’ with regard to their
professional conduct. As members of the military, medical personnel are required to follow
all legal orders, but as members of the greater medical profession they are required to abide
by the principles of medical ethics. Significant issues can arise when these requirements come
into conflict.
In order to provide the best outcomes for the greatest number of patients, medical
professionals around the world classify patients through the process of triage. This process
ensures that patients are seen in order of their clinical urgency, with those needing immediate
medical attention being treated first. However military medical personnel may be ordered to
comply with military mandated triage procedures, which conflicts with the usual principles of
triage. Thus in addition to the standard triage categories, the medical care of patients may
also be assessed according to their military status (US Army Medical Department Center and
School, 2013). For example, according to US Army standard military triage procedures, priority
of treatment is given to:
1. US military personnel
2. Allied military personnel
3. Private military contractors or employees of non-government organisations, such as
aid agencies
4. Enemy prisoners of war
5. Noncombatant local or third party nationals (i.e. civilians)
These competing priorities in triage highlight the need for medical personnel to balance the
needs of medical care and military necessity. Not only is it vital for a military to provide
medical care to their soldiers in order to increase operational effectiveness, but giving medical
priority to ‘friendly’ casualties may also be politically important in terms of maintaining ‘home’
support for these military operations. However, considerations of operational effectiveness,
morale and political support, go against the standard understandings of the triage system,
which prioritizes people according to their medical need, not country of origin or military
Another extremely contentious issue for medical practitioners in the military environment is
their role in interrogation, torture and forced feeding. There are several roles which medical
practitioners may have in these activities which might be considered morally dubious in the
civilian setting. Such roles include:
- The certification of prisoners as being fit for interrogation or torture. (This might include
certifying that prisoners are fit for physical enhanced interrogation techniques such as
slapping, hooding, chaining, sleep deprivation, the use of loud music, prolonged standing
and water boarding. Examples of this certification have been found in Guantanamo Bay
(2004) and in Israel (1993)).
- The provision of medical care for prisoners who are subject to interrogation and torture.
(This may include treating prisoners for wounds sustained before the interrogation begins
or for injuries sustained during the interrogation, as well providing medical advice on the
limits or duration of the torture and/or advice as when the torture should be terminated).
- Tailoring specific interrogation plans for prisoners, based on the psychological profile and
physical limitations of the prisoner. This behavior is clearly at odds with the standard
principles of medical confidentiality.
- Michael Gross has identified instances of medical practitioners participating in passive
torture, for example by stabilizing a prisoner, but not supplying them with painkillers until
an interrogation has been completed (Gross, 2006).
- Force feeding prisoners who have embarked on a hunger strike. This goes against the
standard assumption of autonomy in regards to medical care and seems to be motivated
not by what is in the interests of the patient, but by political or national security
The participation of medical practitioners in the activities of interrogation, torture and forced
feeding of prisoners highlights the conflicting duties that military medical personnel have; a
duty to obey orders issued by the military in which they serve, and a duty to provide the best
possible care to their patient. This conflict can be particularly stark in some cases, such as
when following the orders issued by the military would result in a clear violation of the ethics
of the professional body which has licensed the member’s medical practice. In such a
situation, following the order might result in the loss of the license to practice, but not
following the order might see one imprisoned for a lengthy period especially in time of war.
The problem of dual loyalty may be common to medical practitioners working in other fields,
such as corporate medicine, but the potential consequences in the military sphere are
massively higher. A doctor who refuses to follow the ‘company policy’ in regards to health
care can be fired, but a military doctor who refuses to follow orders, even orders which violate
medical ethics, could potentially be sentenced to death in time of war.
b) Military bioethical issues that mainly impact on soldiers
Many of the ethical issues which affect soldiers come about as a result of the obligation to
obey all legal orders, including the orders of medical personnel (who, as has already been
mentioned, are always considered to outrank those under their care). In the normal medical
setting, patients are afforded the right to make decisions about their own medical care, with
this right only being set aside if the patient is unable to make an informed decision, such as in
the case of being unconscious, or mentally unsound. In the military setting, however, the
ultimate decision regarding medical care and treatment is given to the medical practitioner,
not the military member who is the patient, a situation which appears at odds with the
fundamental right to autonomy in regards to medical decisions. This once again highlights the
competing duties of military medical personnel, who must balance the needs of the patient
against military necessity and operational effectiveness. However, this situation also reveals
some significant issues for the soldier-patient as well.
In the civilian medical setting, confidentiality regarding medical records is a fundamental
principle in medical care. In the military setting, however, the situation is more complicated.
Military medical personnel can be ordered to breach confidentiality, particularly in cases
where a member of the military might be thought to be a danger to others. Thus it is not
unreasonable for military personnel to assume that all their discussions with medical
personnel, including psychiatrists and psychologists, are NOT confidential. Since confessing
physical or psychological problems to military medical personnel may have a long-term effect
on a soldier’s military career, and since military personnel in many jurisdictions are routinely
forbidden from seeking medical treatment from non-military sources, this lack of
confidentiality may well make military personnel more reluctant to seek medical help when it
is required.
Because military personnel must obey all legal orders, even in regards to medical care and
treatment, they are vulnerable to exploitation, particularly in regards to being used for
medical experimentation. Since a soldier who is ordered to take part in medical
experimentation is legally unable to refuse, any consent the soldier may have given might well
be considered null and void. As a result of this, consent for participation in medical research
in the military setting may not be obtained, and in some instances military personnel are not
even advised that they are taking part in a medical experiment; the trial of experimental
vaccines on military personnel is a historical example of such a situation. It seems that military
personnel can be used in medical experiments, not out of a military necessity, but because
they form a large cohort of fit healthy young people who are unable to refuse participation.
This goes against foundational principles in bioethics, as highlighted the Declaration of
Helsinki (1964-2008), which has at its core the respect for individual persons, the right to self-
determination and the right to make informed decisions. It also goes against the principle of
justice, in regards to the fact that subjects in experiments should be recruited for reasons
related to the problem being studied, not because of the ease of recruitment or the ease of
exploitation. Given that civilians are protected from such exploitation, what, if anything, can
ethically justify this sort of treatment of military personnel?
In the United States, military personnel are further set apart from the general population in
regards to medical care, in that they are unable to sue for medical negligence. This situation
comes about as a result of a legal precedent called the ‘Feres Doctrine’, which is based on a
combined ruling by the US Supreme Court, on three separate cases, which was handed down
in 1950. The three cases were that of a soldier who died in a barracks fire, a soldier who died
whilst in hospital having surgery, and a soldier who had a towel (marked with the words
“Medical Department U.S. Army”) left in his stomach during an appendectomy. The ruling by
the Supreme Court found that “the Government is not liable under the Federal Tort Claims
Act for injuries to servicemen where the injuries arise out of or are in the course of activity
incident to service” (US Supreme Court, 1950 – 340 U.S. 135(71 S.Ct. 153, 95 L. Ed. 152)). The
basis for the Feres doctrine appears to be the idea that if military personnel were able to sue
for negligence, then this would undermine good order and discipline in the military. The Feres
doctrine effectively makes U.S. military personnel second class citizens in the eyes of the law,
given that they are unable to sue even in the case of proven negligence. The U.S. situation is
in stark contrast to that in the United Kingdom, where in 2013 the UK Supreme Court ruled
that the families of six military personnel killed in Iraq could sue for negligence and make
damages claims under European Union Human Rights legislation. This landmark ruling
declared that the government has a legal duty to protect its soldiers and their human rights,
even on the battlefield.
While there is not room to discuss such things here, it should be noted that there are various
bioethical issues with regard to new military technologies, which may impact soldiers in the
not too distant future. In particular, soldiers may be required to ‘consent’ to a range of
physical and/or pharmaceutical enhancements (which might include such things as
mechanical cybernetic devices, brain-machine interfaces, experimental medications and
experimental genetic procedures) not because such things are therapeutic, but because they
are thought to be a military necessity. This once again raises issues with regard to informed
consent and the military requirement to obey all legal orders.
c) Military bioethical issues that mainly impact on animals
Animals have been used for military purposes for thousands of years. Some of these animals
have been highly trained, like cavalry horses and modern detector dogs, while others have
been almost entirely untrained, like the draught animals used for hauling wagons and
weaponry. While the bioethical issues raised by the use of animals in the military setting
cannot be considered in any real depth, these issues are certainly worth a brief discussion.
Animals have been used in a range of military operations, in direct combat situations, in
peripheral operations, in communications and in spying. Almost all of these animals have been
mammals, due to their higher intelligence, though some birds (e.g. carrier pigeons) have also
been used. Animals which are in proximity to troops in combat are obviously the most likely
to be at risk of death or crippling injury (which will usually lead to euthanasia), but even
animals engaged in relatively low risk operations can be killed or injured, sometimes in
unexpected ways. For example, in the 1960s the CIA spent millions of dollars on Operation
Acoustic Kitty, which surgically modified cats to allow them to be used to spy on Soviet
embassies. Unfortunately the program ended in 1967 when the first cat to be released, near
the Soviet embassy in Washington DC, was almost immediately run over by a taxi and killed.
However animals have been trained and however valuable they are thought to be, animals
used for military purposes have always been taken into dangerous environments and have
almost always been considered even more expendable than soldiers. Consider the well
trained horses used in cavalry units for example. In extreme cases in battle, such horses might
be shot so that their bodies might be used to create rudimentary fortifications (as was
apparently the case at the famous Battle of the Little Bighorn, also known as Custer’s Last
Stand); in cases where supplies ran low horses might be shot and eaten. Horses were even
more disposable after a war had concluded; at the end of World War One, for example, horses
used by the Australian military were unable to be transported back to Australia due to the
cost of transportation and strict Australian quarantine laws. Most horses in Europe were sold,
while horses used in the Middle East were given away, sold or destroyed. All told, some 120,
000 horses transported from Australia during World War One did not return after the war had
ended, creating critical shortages in Australian agriculture for years to come.
Highly trained animals are still used in the modern military, but despite their expense such
animals are still considered expendable. While animals used by the military are often given an
honorary rank, they are not given the same privileges as the humans they serve alongside.
This is most starkly illustrated by the difference in policy in regards to the treatment of
‘friendly’ military personnel captured or killed in action, as opposed to ‘friendly’ animals killed
or captured on the battlefield. US forces in particular are famous for their ‘leave no man
behind’ policy, but this does not extend to the animals that serve with those soldiers.
Consider, for example, the explosive detection dogs who were used in Afghanistan to help
detect Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs). Dogs captured on the battlefield were not
recovered by the US military, but left in the hands of their captors. Thus, such dogs were often
kept as pets (or used for food) by local Afghanistan families. A specific example of this sort is
the case of Sarbi, an Australian Special Forces explosive detection dog who went missing in
Afghanistan in 2008, during the Battle of Khaz Oruzgan. Sarbi was recovered some 14 months
later by an American soldier who noticed the dog being used as a pet by a local family.
Perhaps the most interesting issues regarding the use of animals in a military context are those
which arise when animals are trained to attack the enemy, sometimes even at the cost of their
own lives. The most famous example of this was during World War Two, when the Soviet
Union attempted to train dogs to run and hide under German tanks. These dogs had
explosives strapped to a harness on their bodies; the explosives would be detonated by a lever
which would be triggered when the dog ran under a tank. There were several problems with
this program, most notably the fact that the dogs were trained using Soviet, diesel powered
tanks, not German petrol powered tanks, and so preferred to hide under their own, familiar-
smelling tanks, rather than enemy ones. Another problem was the fact that the dogs were
usually trained using stationary tanks (in order to save fuel) and so were often scared of
moving tanks, returning to the Soviet trenches still carrying their armed explosive vests and
thus posing a serious risk to their own troops. While the number of German tanks destroyed
by these dogs is unknown, there are verified accounts of successful attacks by these ‘anti-
tank’ dogs.
One of the more interesting, and recent, examples of the use of animals by the military, which
also illustrates some of the problems which can arise in such a context, are modern marine
mammal programs, which use animals such as dolphins and sea lions for military tasks. The
US Marine Mammal program apparently only uses marine mammals for essentially non-
combatant roles, such as the detection of mines and underwater explosives, and recovery of
underwater objects, though in the past marine mammals were apparently used as sentries to
detect, but not engage, unauthorised swimmers and divers in port areas. However, the
dolphins in the program run by the Soviet Union allegedly engaged in other tasks, which
apparently included planting explosives and directly attacking enemy divers, using weapons
mounted on the dolphin’s head. This particular program ran into a range of problems after
being transferred to the Ukrainian Navy following the break-up of the Soviet Union. In 2013,
several of the dolphins, who were apparently carrying military equipment at the time, went
missing during a training exercise; it was believed they may have been seeking mates. More
recently the military dolphins were ‘acquired’ by the Russian Navy after the 2014 takeover of
the Crimean peninsula, where the facility housing them was located.
Much of bioethics is founded on the four moral principles of Principlism Autonomy,
Beneficence, Nonmaleficence, and Justice. It seems when bioethics and military ethics
combine, many of these principles are compromised largely as a result of the unique setting
military ethics is situated in, particularly in regards to the obligation to obey orders.
Cross references
Animal research
Animal rights
Codes of Conduct
Consent : Informed
Double Effect
Human rights
Patient rights
Research policy
Research: Human Subjects
Coleman, S. (2013) Military Ethics. An Introduction with Case Studies. New York, Oxford
University Press.
Defence Force Discipline Act 1982 (Aust), Sect 15F
Gross, M. (2006) Bioethics and armed conflict : Moral Dilemmas of Medicine and War.
Cambridge MA, MIT Press.
Smith & Ors v The Ministry of Defence (2013) United Kingdom Supreme Court 41 (19 June
United States Army Medical Department Center and School (2013), Emergency War Surgery
(4th ed) Fort Sam Houston, Texas : Office of The Surgeon General; Falls Church, Virginia, United
States Army.
US Code of Military Justice - Article 90 e.3
US Code of Military Justice - Article 92 e.1
US Supreme Court, Feres Doctrine, 1950 340 U.S. 135(71 S.Ct. 153, 95 L. Ed. 152)
Walzer, M. (1977) Just and Unjust Wars. New York: Basic. Each of the later editions includes a
new preface, but the text as a whole has not changed since the first edition.
Further reading
Gross, M., Carrick, D. (2013) Military Medical Ethics for the 21st Century. Surry, Ashgate.
Miles, S.H, (2010) Oath Betrayed: America's Torture Doctors. Oakland CA, University of
California Press.
... Underlying that question is the question whether there is a difference between (mainly functional) role morality and (more aspirational) general morality. Sometimes, this is clearly the case: a lawyer is expected to defend the guilty, spies must lie, and sometimes role morality will ask you to do more than is expected of ordinary civilians (Coleman, 2013). Although one could argue that also for military personnel role morality clearly differs from ordinary morality, we see that there is a tendency in many Western militaries toward a aspirational approach that aims at making soldiers better persons (see for instance Robinson, 2007;Van Baarle et al., 2015), mainly based on the view that a bad person is not likely to be a morally good soldier -although he or she could still be an effective one. ...
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Although the notion of universal human rights allows for the idea that states (and supranational organizations such as the European Union) can, or even should, control and impose restrictions on migration, both notions clearly do not sit well together. The ensuing tension manifests itself in our ambivalent attitude towards migration, but also affects the border guards who have to implement national and supranational policies on migration. Little has been written on the ethics that has to guide these border guards in their work. Juxtaposing the ethics of border guarding against the ethics of the somewhat related military profession, this article attempts to (a) describe border guarding as a comparatively rule-guided profession; (b) outline the aim and basis of the ethics education that prepares border guards for their work; and (c) propose a research agenda for the future that should further our understanding of (a) and (b), but also help us improve the moral education of border guards.
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In recent years, questions of ‘character’ have become increasingly prominent in a range of policy contexts, from education to social welfare and from business to healthcare. What unites these various contemporary paens is an assumption that building ‘character’ is a crucial component of ethics and that it holds the key to establishing and maintaining virtuous conduct; moreover, that the cultivation of ‘character’ is at best under-valued and at worst actively undermined and denigrated in any number of contemporary economic and organizational practices. In this paper, we seek to interrogate key aspects of this upsurge of interest in ‘character’ as it has been articulated in particular recent and on-going debates about the reform of organizational life. We argue that this ‘turn’ suffers precisely from an abstraction and lack of contextual specificity – not simply in relation to questions of ‘character formation,’ but also in regard to matters of organization, and indeed the relationship of the one to the other – that severely curtails both its ethical reach and explanatory power.
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Medical ethics in times of war are fundamentally different from those in times of peace. War brings military and medical values into conflict, often overwhelming other moral obligations, such as a doctor's charge to relieve suffering, in the face of military necessity.
As asymmetric 'wars among the people' replace state-on-state wars in modern armed conflict, the growing role of military medicine and medical technology in contemporary war fighting has brought an urgent need to critically reassess the theory and practice of military medical ethics. Military Medical Ethics for the 21st Century is the first full length, broad-based treatment of this important subject. Written by an international team of practitioners and academics, this book provides interdisciplinary insights into the major issues facing military-medical decision makers and critically examines the tensions and dilemmas inherent in the military and medical professions. In this book the authors explore the practice of battlefield bioethics, medical neutrality and treatment of the wounded, enhancement technologies for war fighters, the potential risks of dual-use biotechnologies, patient rights for active duty personnel, military medical research and military medical ethics education in the 21st Century.
In this paper, I will first outline briefly the general triage practices that are common in both civilian and military contexts. The triage procedures which are of current interest, of course, are not these general practices that both civilian and military triage procedures share; rather, of primary interest are those procedures which military commanders mandate during severe battle conditions. In these extreme situations, military protocol mandates the reversal of normal triage procedures, with the least wounded being treated first so that they can rapidly return to the battlefield. It is during these times that tension between two competing loyalties seems to occur. After discussing the battle conditions under which these triage procedures are recommended, I will argue on the grounds that military commanders possess fiduciary obligations that these triage procedures during extreme battle conditions are not only morally permissible but, moreover, that in certain cases they are required so that military commanders may fulfill their obligations. Furthermore, I will contend that, given seemingly subtle differences between the civilian patient-physician relationship and the relationship into which military physicians enter with those needing medical attention, there are instances in which it is appropriate for the military physician to act in accordance with the chain of command’s desires and not enter into this relationship. We should perhaps view the military physician in these circumstances as acting in a different role than the civilian physician, i.e., acting to maintain the strength of the fighting force. In other words, the relationship into which military physicians and the wounded that are in need of treatment enter is dissimilar enough to warrant the difference in care priorities during extreme battle conditions.
New York: Basic. Each of the later editions includes a new preface
  • M Walzer
Walzer, M. (1977) Just and Unjust Wars. New York: Basic. Each of the later editions includes a new preface, but the text as a whole has not changed since the first edition. Further reading
Military Medical Ethics for the 21 st Century (2010) Oath Betrayed: America's Torture Doctors
  • M Gross
  • D Carrick
Gross, M., Carrick, D. (2013) Military Medical Ethics for the 21 st Century. Surry, Ashgate. Miles, S.H, (2010) Oath Betrayed: America's Torture Doctors. Oakland CA, University of California Press.