NGOs Urge Global Defense of Doctors Pressured to Force-feed Hunger-strikers

Letter to World Medical Association mentions Israeli legislation aimed at stopping Palestinian prisoners' strike among 'attacks on physicians' integrity, ethics.'

Ido Efrati
Ido Efrati
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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
Ido Efrati
Ido Efrati

As the Palestinian prisoners' hunger strike enters its 55th day while the Knesset advances legislation to allow their force-feeding, human rights NGOs on Wednesday sought international aid in the fight against the move in Israel and elsewhere.

Force-feeding involves the use of physical pressure on hunger-strikers. At times it is carried out while the prisoner is strapped to a special chair.

In a letter to the World Medical Association, the leading international authority on medical ethics, human rights organizations stated, "In the face of this onslaught on medical integrity and ethics it is crucial that the leadership of the medical community – the WMA – take a clear and immediate position, and publicly denounce those attempts."

The WMA has addressed the issue of force-feeding several times, declaring that physicians are forbidden from taking any part in the practice. In its 1975 Tokyo Declaration, the association asserted that physicians must respect a hunger-striking prisoner's right to reject attempts to feed him by special procedures. In follow-up statements in 1991 and 2006, the WMA affirmed that force-feeding can never be ethical.

The letter mentions the current Israeli legislation, which the Knesset Interior Committee on Tuesday sent to the Knesset for final approval. The NGOs say the bill is being pushed through with unprecedented haste while the Palestinian hunger strike against administrative detention goes forward. The letter also denounces force-feeding of hunger-striking prisoners by the Americans at Guantanamo, and for a long time by the Turks in their prisons.

The NGOs signing the letter come from Italy, South Africa, Belgium, Turkey, Germany, Holland, United States, Britain and Israel. They argue that their appeals to government authorities are not sufficient to stop force-feeding, thus they are asking the WMA "to directly confront the issue and to publicly address relevant governments and authorities, demanding that they respect medical autonomy and ethics and refrain from allowing, condoning, legalizing or urging for force-feeding. The practice is and should be unequivocally recognized as torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment."

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