The Ministerial Committee for Legislation was set to decide on Sunday on a bill enabling doctors to treat prisoners on hunger strike despite their objections, in essence allowing the force-feeding of such prisoners.
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According to the proposal, authored by the Ministry for Public Security, district courts will be charged with authorizing Prison Services doctors to treat prisoners against their will. “A decision on this sensitive question, which requires a careful balancing of weighty and diverse factors, should not be taken by administrative or medical officials responsible for the wellbeing of a prisoner on hunger strike, but should rather be made by a court of law at the appropriate level.”
Under the bill, the court would be asked to approve such a procedure only after being convinced that all measures to reach an understanding with the prisoner had been taken, and that significant attempts were made to convince him to accept treatment.
Giving medical treatment to a hunger striker against his will raises ethical questions for doctors. “There is no disputing the claim that a doctor, based on his training and on the essence of his profession, is bound to do everything possible to ease the suffering and give medical assistance to people in his care,” according to a memo attached to the bill.
However, it adds that “there are situations in which the person being treated does not cooperate, for whatever reason, with the treatment being offered, and even forcibly objects to receiving it or to the conducting of relevant tests. This poses a serious dilemma for the treating doctor, since on one hand he is responsible for the person’s wellbeing, with the ability to assist or even save his life. On the other hand he needs to respect the subject’s autonomy, accepting his right to make his own decisions regarding his life and health.”
The bill was drawn up following extensive hunger strikes that took place in security prisons in 2012. In contrast to earlier hunger strikes, large numbers of prisoners participated, some of whom put their lives at risk.