Extracts from an article about the medical reality in prison signed by doctors from distinctive areas and published in different Basque media at the end of May.

The situation of Basque prisoners, especially those who suffer serious illnesses is a sad truth and an object of protest, which doesn’t just connect these people and their loved ones. The violation of their rights is the object of powers of the states but the demand for their rights is from the citizenry. The signatories of this article, from their condition of doctors and coming from the realization that in the prisons they impose political criteria. They advocate for the respect of medical ethics of the United Nations, which obligates all doctors to protect the physical and mental health of those imprisoned, for which they ask for the “bringing closer to home of all the prisoners and the release of those seriously ill.”

The responsibility of the physical and mental care of those imprisoned belongs to the Home Secretary, but one also has to remember the principles of medical ethics that the United Nations imposes on all health workers and especially the doctors with the obligation of protecting the physical and mental health of prisoners, affirming that their priority is “the health of the patients and not the interests of the directors of the prisons and that the medical workers are not part of the disciplinary or administrative workforce of the prison.”

Dispersion is also a drama for the family and friends (the elderly, working adults and school-age children) impelled or forced to travel thousands of kilometres for many years every weekend with an enormous economic cost (20,000 euros per family a year) and health, with 16 family members already dead on the highways.

We ask, therefore, for the Penitentiary Institutions to reflect on the results of this inhumane measure, because Amnesty International says that “it is very important that the prisoners can maintain a reasonably good contact with the exterior world and above all to dispose of the measures to protect their relationships with their families and intimate friends, especially their wives, husbands or companions and children, because maintaining these relationships has a crucial importance for all interested parts and especially for the social rehabilitation of the prisoner.

The United Nations affirms about discipline and sanctions that “corporal punishment, being held in a dark cell, as well as every cruel, inhumane or degrading sanction remains completely prohibited as disciplinary sanctions”, and the WHO that “it must be minimized any difference between life in prison and life in freedom, for which the number of inmates maintained in maximum security must be limited.”

We, as doctors, call on the health authorities and medical associations to make theirs the recommendations of organizations such as the WHO, the United Nations, Amnesty International, defenders of the right to health beyond discriminatory political decisions contrary to human rights and the ethical principles of medical practice.

The Declaration of Geneva, as a reference to medical ethics, says “I will not permit considerations of age, disease or disability, creed, ethnic origin, gender, nationality, political affiliation, race, sexual orientation, social standing or any other factor to intervene between my duty and my patient” and “I will not use my medical knowledge to violate human rights and civil liberties, even under threat”. Doctors, therefore, are ethically obliged to defend the bringing closer to home of all prisoners without discrimination and the release of those seriously ill, measures included in the current penal code and which must be applied with respect for the human rights of every one.