Read our Report on the Military Medical Ethics (MME) project

Medical Ethics Education and Training Tools for Crisis Zones

The Centre for Military Ethics at King’s College London is working to refine and expand the existing (and successful) Military Ethics Education Playing Cards and their linked online resources by researching and developing a new training and education resource specifically designed for health care professionals deployed in conflict, post conflict and humanitarian disaster relief environments.

Military Ethics Education Playing Cards 

Fostering ethical awareness and moral decision-making in military personnel is a proven way of reducing harm and suffering in conflict situations, but there is a lack of quality pedagogic tools for supporting development in this key area and normalising the everyday discussion of ethical considerations. Academics at the King’s College London Centre for Military Ethics have developed an innovative education tool to support the teaching of military ethics. Fifty-two questions from across the broad area of military ethics have been carefully developed, based on professional military ethics education curricula, in conjunction with research and testing on military focus groups, and in consultation with specialist lawyers. The questions are matched to playing cards which are available (at cost price) to military units and can be used to prompt informal discussion about the ethical challenges faced in military environments. Playing cards are a familiar item and provide a non-threatening way to introduce challenging topics such as:

  • Should a soldier challenge an order if they consider it to be illegal? 
  • Is necessity ever a reason to break the laws of war? 
  • Can soldiers refuse to serve if they disagree with their government’s decisions?

To ensure the right ‘take away’ from any discussion, each card has a QR web link to the King’s Centre for Military Ethics web pages where there are additional prompts, questions and information for each question, along with reading and articles. Groups of questions can be thematically linked so impromptu or pre-planned supported discussions can quickly be developed using the open-access material. Ethics pedagogy best practice suggests that lessons are most successfully internalised when they come from a peer (or near peer), meaning the relative rank or status of the person transmitting the message matters. This moves the narrative from “this is what I am told to do” to “this is what we do”. Therefore short ‘talking heads’ videos of personnel from as many different backgrounds as possible are also being added, talking about their answers to the questions or their personal experience of dealing with, or being part of a challenging situation. These cards are a successful resource and are being used by British military units, such as 45 Commando, and at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, and the cards have been translated into a number of different languages (Spanish, French, Serbian, Turkish, Arabic), and are being used in military institutions from Belgrade to Bogota.

Medical Ethics for Conflict Zones Playing Cards

The aim is to adapt the existing proven methodology to produce 52 new questions focused on the ethical challenges faced by health care professionals working in post conflict situations and refugee environments, with a focus on the Middle East. If the playing card format is deemed inappropriate for the environment, a related method will be developed that maintains the key advantages of the format.

Professor David Whetham, Director of King’s College of London Centre for Military Ethics

Professor David Whetham is a Professor of Ethics and the Military Profession in the Defence Studies Department of King’s College London, based at the Joint Services Command and Staff College at the UK Defence Academy where he coordinates and delivers the military ethics component of courses for between two and three thousand British and international officers a year.