WOUTER Basson "bears full moral responsibility" for the unethical activities of Project Coast, the apartheid government's biological and chemical warfare programme that he led, medical ethics expert Steven Miles said yesterday at the Health Professions Council of SA.

The council wants an independent committee to find Dr Basson guilty of unprofessional conduct.

Prof Miles, a witness for the council, painted a portrait of a man who consistently and flagrantly ignored his ethical obligations as a doctor, despite choosing to stay registered as a medical practitioner throughout the time that he oversaw Project Coast.

Prof Miles is still to be cross- examined by Dr Basson's counsel, Jaap Cilliers SC, today.

Dr Basson is charged with manufacturing dangerous substances, turning them into weapons, overseeing their use in specific battles and providing substances to tranquillise people kidnapped in cross-border operations. If he is found guilty of unprofessional conduct, he could be deregistered as a doctor.

Dr Miles made a distinction between ethics and law, saying lawful conduct for an ordinary person could be unethical conduct for a medical practitioner. "Dr Basson, as a physician, agreed to essentially oversee a large enterprise, which was entirely separate from the therapeutic purposes . of the health profession."

He said it was "of no consequence" that Dr Basson did not have a doctor-patient relationship with those who were targets of the weapons he developed.

Counsel for the council, Salie Joubert SC, painstakingly took Prof Miles through Dr Basson's own testimony during his criminal trial - to show that in Dr Basson's own words, he had breached a number of international codes, conventions and protocols, all of which applied to South African doctors. SA was one of the "charter members" of the World Medical Association, Prof Miles said.

He said that the drug Scoline, provided by Dr Basson for use in cross-border kidnappings, was most often used as an anaesthetic during operations to prevent people from fighting the use of a respirator. It was also used to cause respiratory failure in executions. Its effect was to paralyse the nerves including those that allow a person to breathe.

At his criminal trial, Dr Basson said he had no moral or ethical problem with being part of kidnappings because they were part of a military operation.

But Prof Miles said he had "confounded" military ethics with medical ethics. "This charge is about Dr Basson's conduct in relation to medical ethics," he said. He referred to the World Medical Association's Regulations in Times of Armed Conflict, which say "medical ethics in times of armed conflict is identical to medical ethics in times of peace".

rabkinf@bdfm.co.za