There is no code of conduct for combat camera crews or government public affairs officers. The National Press Photographers Association has a Code of Ethics that advises giving "special consideration to vulnerable subjects," but the principle gets no more specific than that. We need something explicit to maintain our integrity, to avoid exploiting children whom we have probably never met, and to communicate honestly, clearly, and effectively with the public.
Even with the best intentions, this is not as easy as it sounds. When I worked on my 2009 campaign, for example, I found dozens of images like this one of U.S. and Allied service members visiting the burn ward at the Indira Gandhi Children's Hospital in Kabul to donate toys and supplies. The war has overshadowed an epidemic of pediatric burns in the country, which are often caused by kerosene burners used for cooking and heating homes in Afghanistan but may also stem from punishment.
I couldn't use the images because most are simply too horrifying. In a public campaign, people also might mistake the wounds for injuries resulting from terrorism, crossfire, or unexploded ordnance rather than something as commonplace as a household burn. In other words, as compelling as this story is, the underlying message would have been garbled or missed altogether had I included the photographs in the 2009 campaign. To be really effective, these pictures should be used in a drive to support the hospital.
Above, Navy Lt. Jessica Gandy visits with a young patient of the Indira Gandhi Children's Hospital in Kabul in 2008.