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Medical immunity, international law and just war theory
  1. Fritz Allhoff1 and
  2. K Potts2
  1. 1 Department of Philosophy, Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA
  2. 2 University of Michigan Law School, Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr. Fritz Allhoff, Department of Philosophy, Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, MI 49008, USA; fritz.allhoff{at}


Under customary international law, the First Geneva Convention and Additional Protocol I, medical personnel are protected against intentional attack. In § 1 of this paper, we survey these legal norms and situate them within the broader international humanitarian law framework. In § 2, we explore the historical and philosophical basis of medical immunity, both of which have been underexplored in the academic literature. In § 3, we analyse these norms as applied to an attack in Afghanistan (2015) by the United States; the United States was attempting to target a Taliban command-and-control centre but inadvertently destroyed a Médecins Sans Frontières hospital instead, killing 42 people. In § 4, we consider forfeiture of medical immunity and, more sceptically, whether supreme emergency could justify infringement of non-forfeited protected status.

  • military medical ethics
  • medical immunity
  • international humanitarian law
  • just war theory

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  • Funding Parts of this paper were written while Dr. Allhoff was a Fellow in the Center for Law and the Biosciences at Stanford University and as a Fulbright Specialist in the Faculty of Political Science at the University of Iceland; he thanks those institutions for their support. He also thanks the United States National Science Foundation, which has provided generous support under award #1317798.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent Not required.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; internally peer reviewed.

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