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Prolonged immigration detention, complicity and boycotts
  1. Melanie Jansen1,2,
  2. Alanna Sue Tin1,
  3. David Isaacs3,4
  1. 1Centre for Children’s Health Ethics and Law, Children's Health Queensland, South Brisbane, Queensland, Australia
  2. 2Faculty of Medicine, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia
  3. 3Children's Hospital at Westmead, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
  4. 4Centre for Values, Ethics and the Law in Medicine, University of Sydney, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
  1. Correspondence to Professor David Isaacs, The Children’s Hospital at Westmead, Locked Bag 4001, Westmead, NSW 2145, Australia; david.isaacs{at}


Australia’s punitive policy towards people seeking asylum deliberately causes severe psychological harm and meets recognised definitions of torture. Consequently, there is a tension between doctors’ obligation not to be complicit in torture and doctors’ obligation to provide best possible care to their patients, including those seeking asylum. In this paper, we explore the nature of complicity and discuss the arguments for and against a proposed call for doctors to boycott working in immigration detention. We conclude that a degree of complicity is unavoidable when working in immigration detention, but that it may be ethically justifiable. We identify ways to minimise the harms associated with complicity and argue that it is ethical to continue working in immigration detention as long as due care and attention is paid to minimising the harms of complicity.

  • torture and genocide
  • applied and professional ethics

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  • Competing interests None declared.

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