Israel Permits Doctors to Sedate Palestinian Prisoners for Force-feeding

MKs who oppose the force-feeding bill being pushed forward in the Knesset call it 'immoral' and 'unethical.'

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Palestinians pray by the West Bank separation barrier on June 6, 2014, during a demonstration in support of hunger-strikers.
Palestinians pray by the West Bank separation barrier on June 6, 2014, during a demonstration in support of hunger-strikers.Credit: AFP

Physicians will have the authority to sedate hunger-striking Palestinian prisoners to make it easier to force-feed them, the Public Security Ministry’s legal adviser said on Wednesday.

“I intend to allow physicians to use their own judgment, including whether full or partial sedation is necessary,” the legal adviser, Yoel Hadar, told the Knesset’s Internal Affairs and Environment Committee. “I am not a doctor. The doctor will decide," he added.

Israeli Arab MK Ahmed Tibi protested the decision, calling it "a huge scandal."

"This is a new piece of information, and I ask that the discussion be stopped immediately," Tibi said. The committee’s chairwoman, MK Miri Regev, refused. Hadar answered the committee members with a jab at Tibi: “Tibi wants pain and suffering, and I don’t. I don’t want them to suffer,” he said.

The committee presented the new version of the force-feeding of prisoners bill on Wednesday morning, after changes were made to it during marathon discussions over the past week. The most significant change is that any mention of force-feeding was removed from the bill's wording. The sentence sanctioning “the provision of nutrition or fluids, including by artificial means, or other medical treatment” was removed.

Knesset members from the opposition criticized the move, saying that the purpose of the change was to prevent future disqualification of the bill by the High Court of Justice in the future. “This is nothing but a cosmetic change, made for fear of a propaganda collapse and legal defeat” Tibi said. MK Tamar Zandberg (Meretz) also attacked Hadar's promotion of the bill. “This is really a Mother Teresa bill. You’re trying to protect yourself and your professional ethics. The law is immoral, unethical, and does not meet the standards of international conventions or the Patients Rights Law.”

On Wednesday morning, MK Yifat Kariv (Yesh Atid) sent a sharply-worded letter to the Knesset speaker asking that the “rapid and anti-democratic” legislative process of the bill be stopped. “It is inconceivable that discussion sessions are scheduled at the same time as the general Knesset meetings, without advance notice or the possibility of preparing accordingly,” she wrote.

As the administrative detainees' hunger strike entered its 55th day on Wednesday, 18 health and human rights organizations called on the World Medial Association to publicly voice its opposition to various attempts being made, both in Israel and outside of it, to pressure medical personnel to take part in force-feedings.

The issue of force-feeding of hunger-striking prisoners has been brought before the WMA several times before, and its position is that physicians must not take part in such actions. The Tokyo accord, which was ratified by the WMA in 1975, states that medical personnel must respect prisoners' right to refuse artificial feeding methods. The Malta declaration, which was ratified in 1991 and again in 2006, posits that force-feeding is unethical under any circumstances.

The Public Security Ministry's proposal to allow physicians to sedate hunger-strikers for the purpose of force-feeding has no equal in other countries. The few countries that force-feed prisoners, such as the United States at its Guantanamo Bay prison, strap the prisoners a to specially-designed chair.

Sedating prisoners prior to force-feeding isn't practical, according to many experts, as well as dangerous. "Sedation certainly presents a danger to someone who has fasted for a prolonged period, as the sodium level in his blood would be imbalanced. The procedure would demand full-time monitoring of numerous [health] parameters, and is likely to be accompanied by side effects," says Dr. Bettina Birmans, a member of the medical ethics committee of Physicians for Human Rights-Israel.

Force-feeding is not a one-time procedure; it is repeated for days or weeks, sometimes several times a day, depending on the hunger-striker's condition. Birmans says that sedating such prisoners time and again before force-feeding them is medically unsound.

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