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Forensic Nanotechnology, Biosecurity and Medical Professionalism: Improving the Australian Health Care System's Response to Terrorist Bombings


This chapter explores how medical professionalism in forensic bioterrorist investigations may be influenced by the enhanced surveillance, detection and data storage capacities offered by nanotechnology. It draws on the author's experience treating patients injured in the 2002 Bali bombings.

It is now well accepted that health professionals involved in forensic investigations may experience conflict of interest problems with moral, ethical, legal and human rights dimensions. Physicians acquiring information, for example, about crimes from patients may have to breach ethical and legal obligations of confidentiality in disclosing that information to justice authorities. The professional obligations of physicians involved in forensic investigations extend to the collation of evidence and provision of testimony within an adversarial legal system. Many of these duties have the potential to create dilemmas for a physician's sense of professionalism, which is generally characterised by an emphasis on public service, rather than profit-earning, by an occupation with State-recognised special skill.

Physicians treating terrorist suspects or involved in investigating allegations of massacres, may be assisted in resolving any resultant conflict of interest dilemmas by reference not only to basic principles of medical ethics, but to relevant United Nations guidelines. International humanitarian law is another important source of professional norms by which physicians can calibrate legislation or other obligations to the state requiring their involvement in such areas. It is an aggregation of customary and treaty-based principles and rules concerned with the treatment of wounded, civilians and prisoners in war, and overlapping with many areas of medical ethics. Article 7 of the ICCPR, as well as prohibiting torture or cruel, unusual or degrading treatment or punishment also provides that 'no one shall be subjected without his free consent to medical or scientific experimentation'.

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