Definition Breakdown 

Medical impartiality is the principle that no person or group shall interfere with the access to or delivery of medical services and that medical personnel shall not discriminate or refuse care to anyone injured or sick. This principle applies in times of conflict and civil unrest.

Medical impartiality is composed of two principles: noninterference and nondiscrimination.


Noninterference is considered a part of the customary international humanitarian law lexicon. The principle applies to state and non-state actors alike. Medical services shall be understood to mean all medical personnel, facilities, and transportation.

Noninterference should be understood as prohibiting the following:

  • Attacks on medical services;
  • Obstruction of a patient’s access to medical services;
  • Obstruction of medical personnel’s access to patients;
  • Enforced disappearance of medical personnel;
  • Theft or forced surrender of medical supplies and resources.

Medical professionals have an ethical duty to deliver medical attention and care to those sick or injured and in need of such care. The abstention from interfering with this duty is an essential element in preventing loss of life around the world.

Noninterference also prohibits any temporary obstruction to medical services. This prohibits a person or group from temporarily stopping personnel, transportation, or supplies from reaching the sick or injured within the time frame necessary to provide the proper care.

Medical personnel protected by this principle include, but are not limited to, doctors, nurses, assistants, transportation providers, technicians, pharmacists, and psychiatrists. Medical facilities protected under this principle include, but are not limited to, hospitals, urgent care facilities, clinics, vaccination clinics, pharmacies, and general practices. Medical transportation means any vehicle moving medical personnel, patients, or supplies, whether by ground, water, or air. A patient is any injured or sick person in need of medical care or attention.


Medical professionals have an ethical duty to provide objective and impartial medical care to those sick or injured. Nondiscrimination reinforces this ethical duty. Medical professionals may not refuse care to any person or people. Nondiscrimination ensures the humane treatment of all civilians in need of medical care, and the nondiscriminatory treatment of those injured and sick.

The element of nondiscrimination applies to all medical personnel. This includes, but is not limited to, general care physicians, surgeons, nurses, pharmacists, psychologists, health care volunteers, and transportation operators. None of the aforementioned persons may, for any reason, deny or refuse care to a patient who is sick or injured and is in need of medical attention. This includes religious, ethnic, national, and political affiliations.

Medical personnel take oaths to protect and care for those in need, regardless of who that person might be. No person or group may try to influence the decision of a medical personnel to care for one person or group of people. Additionally, no one shall prioritize patients for care in any manner other than by the objective need for care of any particular patient.

What Constitutes a Violation of Medical Impartiality?

Any of the below is a violation of medical impartiality:

  • Militarized attack on medical workers, services, or infrastructure or any other type of attack that destroys supplies, medical services, records, or anything else significantly related to medical care;
  • Action taken against medical services or patients;
  • Obstruction of a patient’s access to medical services;
  • Obstruction of medical personnel’s access to patients;
  • Coercion or verbal threats against medical personnel.


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