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The non-combatant status: importance and implications for medical personnel
  1. Daniel Wilkins1 and
  2. C Dieppe2
  1. 1General Duties Medical Officer, Chester, UK
  2. 2Responsible Officer (Army), Camberley, UK
  1. Correspondence to Captain Daniel Wilkins, General Duties Medical Officer, 3 Medical Regiment, Dale Barracks, Liverpool Road, Chester CH2 4BD, UK; Daniel.wilkins407{at}


Under the laws of armed conflict military medics are deemed non-combatants, and as such are subject to certain protections and limitations. The non-combatant status is defined in the famous Geneva Conventions, which form the basis of the international law of armed conflict. The protections afforded to medical personnel in armed conflict are a result of the need to protect and treat the sick and injured during times of hostility. This paper describes the history and legal development of the non-combatant status, and summarises the importance and implications of the contents of the Geneva Conventions that are relevant to medical personnel as non-combatants. We conclude that, despite scope for criticism of its relevance in contemporary operations, the non-combatant status for medical personnel highlights our commitment to alleviating suffering in armed conflict, and provides a vital legal basis to protect those who serve to treat the sick and injured. The ultimate beneficiaries of this protected status for medical personnel are our patients themselves. This paper also aims to stimulate debate and discussion of the importance of the non-status amongst military medical personnel.


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  • Contributors DW conducted research, prepared and redrafted the manuscript. CD offered guidance and advice on the content of the manuscript.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.