Some Germans decline to treat wounded GIs

February 22, 1991|By Ian Johnson | Ian Johnson,Special to The Sun

BERLIN -- Emergency plans to treat wounded GIs in German hospitals are running into problems, including the refusal of some employees to treat soldiers.

Although a minority, a growing number of German doctors, nurses and hospital staff members say they do not want to help treat military patients because this could help them return to fight in the war.

"What if I have to treat an American pilot? Should I help him go back and bomb more cities?" asked one participant in a Berlin forum on medical help for the allies.

Many medical personnel think the answer is no. At a 203-bed hospital in Hamburg, for example, 200 employees have signed a petition saying they will not treat wounded allied soldiers. Similar petitions have attracted dozens of signatures at hospitals in other cities, including Bremen, Frankfurt and Freiburg.

Staff members say they feel torn between their professional oath to treat anyone in need and a strong feeling that any support for war is wrong. Some nurses, for example, have participated in demonstrations, forming a marching "white bloc" of opponents to the military confrontation in the Persian Gulf.

Germany plays a key role in U.S. medical plans. Nine of the 11 U.S. military hospitals in Europe are in Germany, with more than 5,000 available beds. The hospitals are increasing their capacity by turning halls and hangars into provisional wards.

But in case this is not enough, German civilian hospitals will be used. Since plans were first developed in November, the civilian hospitals have been asked to keep bed space open if casualties are high. German hospitals are already treating U.S. civilians who have been cleared out of military hospitals to make room for military casualties.

These requests have caused problems for civilian hospitals, which were already were bursting at their seams and in need of more nurses.

"In the worst case, this could mean a collapse of the medical system. We could be put in a situation of having to choose whom we treat -- civilian or military patients," said Winfried Beck, chairman of the Democratic Union of Doctors.

On top of this are the staff members who on principle do not want to treat any members of the military. Many are young Germans who chose a longer service in hospitals or other non-military duties rather than serve in the German military. The division between them and their bosses, who have promised U.S. officials that the hospitals will take wounded GIs, was shown at the Berlin forum on the problems.

Dr. Johannes Bruck, head of the Urban Hospitals' Burn Center in Berlin, was criticized by many in the audience who opposed his assurance that employees would be willing to work extra hours to help soldiers.

"Refuse to work more -- We don't want to play the Florence Nightingale in the War of the Mighty," one handbill published by Urban Hospital employees said.

Michael Roehlen, a representative of the International Organization of Doctors Against Nuclear War, said that pitching in for the war effort was just aiding military planners. "We don't want to be used by military leaders as a kind of reassurance that everything is taken care of. Against modern war, modern medicine can do almost nothing," he said.

Doctors have a responsibility, he said, to make the public aware that medicine could actually do little for thousands of burn victims.

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