A military doctor reaches for his weapon to defend his fellow soldiers – is that right? According to Cord von Einem, it is becoming increasingly apparent that there is a conflict in the self-image that military doctors and medics have about their own role. Even during their training, they struggle with a lack of legal clarity and ethical concerns. These may arise when, for instance, military doctors and medics are deployed in a conflict where one party uses irregular tactics and ignores International Humanitarian Law (IHL). Von Einem emphasizes this point, using the example of Afghanistan, where insurgent fighters were not regarded as combatants under international law. These exceptional situations make it difficult for medical personnel to distinguish self-defense from combat situations and possibly irregular attacks. According to von Einem, also medical personnel are now increasingly demanding that they should be allowed to use heavier weapons, e.g. to force access to wounded fellow soldiers.
If in training, international law is not taught and understood successfully, this can have serious consequences for military medical personnel in the field. Military doctors and medics risk criminal prosecution and the loss of protection under the law of war, if they actively participate in combat.
While a right of self-defense exists, as von Einem emphasizes, this topic is not taught in sufficient depth in training. In his view, the limits of International Humanitarian Law in today's armed conflicts and the resulting lack of legal clarity is certainly a decisive reason for this.
Von Einem calls for a clear and improved knowledge transfer in training, to provide a better basis for the self-understanding of military doctors.