Terrorism is a Medical Matter

Medical Authors and Editors: Barbara K. Hecht, Ph.D. and Frederick Hecht, M.D.

The worst terrorist attack in Spanish history on March 11, 2004. At least 10 bombs exploded during rush hour in three commuter train stations. At least 190 people were killed and more than 1,200 wounded. Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar appeared on television and told his people, "Terrorists tried to cause as much pain as possible. March 11 now has its place in the history of infamy."

Terrorism is a Medical Problem

We usually choose the stories for the daily MedicineNet Health News. These are generally about medical matters -- cancer, heart disease, stroke, arthritis, the flu, SARS, migraine, and many other diseases and conditions that impinge on health.

The tragedy in Spain is a terrible way to remember that terrorism is also a medical matter. When there is something like this, we tend to think of the deaths. But many more may be wounded in the flesh and in the spirit. And then there is the aftermath for all who survive and their families and friends.

Health, Medical, & Scientific Aspects of War & Terrorism

A press release from the University of California, San Francisco on "UCSF Experts on War- and Terrorism-Related Topics" listed "clinicians and scientists who can provide expert information on health, medical, and scientific topics related to war and terrorism."

The UCSF staff who are listed include experts on bioterrorism & infectious disease; chemical weapons; physical trauma; PTSD (posttraumatic stress disorder ) and other psychological aspects of trauma; and, perhaps, most poignantly, the psychological aspects of trauma from war and terrorism that are specific to children and adolescents.

A Personal Perspective

Both of us studied at medical school -- one (FH) for an MD degree and the other (BKH) for a PhD. In the years we were at medical school as medical and graduate students, we never once heard the word "terrorism."

Today every medical school and many medical centers have staff who can provide "expert information on health, medical, and scientific topics related to war and terrorism." That is the sad truth.

We believe that terrorism is nothing more than war on innocent people and, like war, it is bad for people and bad for their health. Terrorism, like war, is very much a medical matter.

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Last Editorial Review: 2/9/2006