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Military Healthcare Ethics

Key information

Subject area:

Public Policy, Politics & Security

Course type:

Continuing Professional Development (CPD)

Credit level:

Not for credit


5 hours (self-paced)

Available course dates:

To be confirmed

Course overview

This course is designed to provide a comprehensive introduction to the topic of military healthcare ethics and to explore the issues of practicing healthcare ethically in the military setting. 

Who should be picked up by military medical evacuation helicopters? Should I withdraw treatment from a child burned in a cooking accident to free up an intensive care bed for a military patient? Should I declare a soldier unfit to deploy because they refuse to take anti-malarials? Should I report a soldier who has declared their alcohol addiction to their Commanding Officer? Should I downgrade a senior non-commissioned officer whose medical condition precludes deployment and prevent their promotion? Should I administer a vaccination that I think is unnecessary? These are just some of the types of decisions that may face a military healthcare worker that have ethical and legal implications.

Ethics is the set of moral principles than govern a person’s activities or behaviours. Medical ethics starts with the underlying principle of ‘first do no harm’. This contrasts with the ‘profession of arms’ whereby the explicit intent is to do harm to one’s enemies. However, even in war, there should be limits to the use of violence. These are expressed as the ‘Laws of Armed Conflict (LOAC)’ or ‘International Humanitarian Law (IHL)’. Military ethics covers the professional behaviours of military practitioners based on IHL and all other behaviours in employment in the armed forces. Military Healthcare Ethics (MHE) lies at the intersection of medical and military ethics. It is underpinned by the principle that medical facilities and personnel are fundamentally humanitarian actors afforded protection under IHL. Medical personnel (encompassing all healthcare workers and personnel assigned to medical duties) are not parties to conflict and thus have rights and duties. These extend from conflict into the wider military environment and reflect the application of medical ethics into the unique context of the armed forces.

This is a self-paced online course where students can access and work through the material at their own convenience.

Please also visit the Centre for Military Ethics website. 

What does this course cover?

This course aims to:

  • Enable participants to understand Military Healthcare Ethics in order to practice healthcare ethically in the military setting
  • Introduce the Laws of Armed Conflict (LOAC) and International Humanitarian Law (IHL) as applied to military healthcare professionals during operations
  • Introduce ethics in healthcare as applied to professional practice as a health professional in a military medical service
  • Foster the capacity of critical analysis and independent judgement

What will I achieve?

At the end of the course, students will be able to:

  • Identify the provisions within the Geneva Conventions and other International Humanitarian Law (IHL) that apply to military healthcare workers
  • Demonstrate the application of Laws of Armed Conflict (LOAC)/IHL in the care of individual patients in the following categories: military patients, international military patients, civilians, enemy combatants, non-state armed actors, criminals
  • Describe the application of IHL in the conduct of military medical units during conflict
  • Interpret the ICRC et al Ethical Principles of Health Care in Times of Armed Conflict and Other Emergencies and other key references into clinical professional practice for operations
  • Describe the additional responsibilities and arrangements for the provision of healthcare to specific populations under LOAC/IHL: children, women, disabled, non-native speakers, different religions and cultures
  • Describe the ‘Use of the Red Cross’ by healthcare personnel, ambulances and medical facilities, including identity documentation
  • Describe the authorities and limitations for the ‘Arming of healthcare personnel’ under the Geneva Conventions and the restrictions of the use of force by healthcare personnel
  • Describe the specific prohibitions of actions/behaviors by healthcare personnel under IHL
  • Understand the duties and potential conflicts associated with the duality of professions between the armed forces and healthcare workers
  • Describe the general principles of medical ethics
  • Identify the sources of policy, procedures and general information on military medical ethics
  • Describe your professional/ethical responsibilities in routine clinical practice in military healthcare in regard to: confidentiality, consent, reporting medical fitness to work, prescribing/administration of force health protection measures, record keeping, information sharing, relationships with patients, conflicts of interest, conduct of medical research, refusing treatment, seeking alternative/non-standard treatment, national security, safeguarding, practice within competence/training

Who will I learn with?

Martin Bricknell

Martin Bricknell

Professor in Conflict, Health and Military Medicine

Who is this for?

There are no formal education or professional requirements, however, all learning will be delivered in English, therefore we recommend minimum IELTS Level 6 for learners to get the most from the spoken and written content.

Course status:

Opening soon

Full fee £450

Express interest


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