Torture: Humans resolve to animalistic actions

I am a third year physiotherapy student doing an online course on ethics over the period of 6 weeks. The content for the 4th week was torture, these are my thoughts:

Torture is the act of deliberately inflicting severe physical pain and possibly injury to a person (or animal) who is physically restrained or otherwise under the torturer’s control or custody, unable to defend against what is being done to them.”

The first thing I think of when reading this definition is the abuse of one’s power over another. This is unacceptable. I agree completely with Sarah’s statement: “how fair is it to use your power over another person who is in no place to defend them self? Torture in any form is uncivilized and inhumane. We should not use our own strengths to demean another person.” There is a reason torture was declared unacceptable by the UN in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, It is a violation of human rights. Humans should never be able to exert their power on other humans. End of story. 

I know what it is like to feel powerless in a situation and I can share with you what it feels like: to be unable to prevent an act of inhumanity against yourself makes you feel useless, weak, defenceless… You feel forced to be vulnerable in an adverse environment, you feel completely violated. Because of this experience, I feel strongly against any form of torture. Human rights should not be violated. Power should never be used as a weapon, but as a tool for the greater good. 

But what about this situation: You have the person who has valuable information about your family who is in danger. What would you do? 

Firstly, the fact that a person is withholding information like that is wrong. That too, is violating human rights. You cannot withhold information that if not shared, could endanger an innocent. As physiotherapists, would we withhold information about a patient that has confided in you about his plan to murder a specific person? I hope not. According to the South African Physiotherapist Code of Conduct we must respect patient confidentiality, privacy, choices and dignity. But at the same time we have a social responsibility. We should use our knowledge and skills to promote and benefit humankind and promote health for all. Something to think about. 

In the above situation, yes, I would like to know the whereabouts of my family but I will not resort to an act I see as animalistic and inhumane. I would try my best to use all the non-inhumane resources I have to get that information. If that doesn’t work, I do not have an answer for you. 

Are some lives more valuable than others?

In my previous post, I argued that we are all humans and therefore all equal. So my answer to this question would be no, no life is more or less valuable than another. Although I completely understand why people disagree with me or have trouble treating all life as valuable. I struggle with this. And I can definitely think of an example: Working in a clinic, having to see many patients in a day and you know you will not be able to see all the patients that are waiting outside for the day. How do you decide who gets treatment? Do you use a first come, first serve approach? Do you chose the patients that have more serious ailments/disabilities? Do you chose the patients that are younger and leave the elderly for last? Each patient has an equal right to health care. I must admit, it is very difficult to decide. 

“Eye for an Eye”

Reading Jackie’s thoughts on this, I find myself completely agreeing with her. She says: “lets say we “did” live by those criterion’s, the consequence would be a spiralling downfall of ignorance and devaluation. Thus, we would never ever learn the value and significance of human life because we would simply kill someone because they killed.” The saying “an eye for an eye” simply does not work. And I think it is because people are too scared to admit guilt, so they attack back. 

In conclusion, I think torture should never be used as it is inhumane as it exerts power over a powerless being. We should stray further away from primitive behaviour and toward civilised behaviour that promote and benefit humankind. 


3 thoughts on “Torture: Humans resolve to animalistic actions

  1. Hi Kristin. I really enjoyed reading your post. You’ve covered quiet a lot of ground and done a good job of trying to explore the different perspectives. I want to agree with everything you said but there’s one point I’ve been struggling with and that’s the idea that all (human) life has equal value (when compared with other human life). As much as I want to believe that, I have to accept that for me, not all life has the same value.

    For example, the value that I place on my daughter’s life far exceeds the value I place on the life of any other baby in the world. She is more valuable to me than anyone else’s child. How could it be any other way? What I realised is that when we talk about “equality”, we mean “equal before the law”, and not “equal in value”. If my daughter commits a crime, then she is subject to the consequences as determined by the law, regardless of the value I place on her life.

    I think that we should be careful when conflating “value” with “equality”, since I’m not sure that they’re the same thing. Different things have different values depending on the context we’re in. Anyone would argue that gold has more value than water, except the person dying in a desert.

    1. Hi Michael, putting it that way does change my initial statement. I think I was confusing equality with value, and I completely agree with you on your example above. There does seem to be a difference in the value of human life, but I think that needs more exploring. At this point, all I can say that I see all humans as equal but I value some lives more than others. I hope that clears it up 🙂 thanks for your comment

  2. Hey Kristin! Again, a well thought-out post! I agree with Michael’s and your comments above. When it comes to family and friends we instinctively put them on the pedestal with great value in a dire situation. However, is it morally wrong to do the opposite? What are your thoughts?


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