World Medical Association appeals to Israeli Prime Minister to reconsider force feeding bill

June 29, 2015

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The World Medical Association has appealed to Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to reconsider Government legislation that would explicitly allow the force-feeding of detainees on hunger strike. In a letter to the Prime Minister, the WMA states that doctors should not be involved in any way in torture or inhumane and degrading treatment.

The Israeli parliament, the Knesset, will consider this legislation for the second time. After the previous time, human rights organisations, health professional organisations, activists and others vehemently protested its coming into force. As a result, the legislation was withdrawn, however, it has now been re-introduced for discussion.

The WMA Declaration on the prohibition of medical involvement in torture (Declaration of Tokyo) states: “Where a prisoner refuses nourishment and is considered by the physician as capable of forming an unimpaired and rational judgment concerning the consequences of such a voluntary refusal of nourishment, he or she shall not be fed artificially. The decision as to the capacity of the prisoner to form such a judgment should be confirmed by at least one other independent physician. The consequences of the refusal of nourishment shall be explained by the physician to the prisoner.”

The WMA press release quotes WMA President Dr. Xavier Deau and Chair Dr. Ardis Hoven saying: “Force-feeding is violent, very painful and absolutely in opposition to the principle of individual autonomy. It is a degrading, inhumane treatment, amounting to torture. But worse, it can be dangerous and is the most unsuitable approach to save lives. The evidence from many cases around the world that our colleagues have been working on over the past four decades, shows that the best results are obtained when the patient/physician relationship is maintained, even under the difficult circumstance of a hunger strike. This includes patient confidentiality, proper medical care and advice by the physician, but also respecting the free will of the patient. Force-feeding is completely incompatible with this and destroys any patient/physician trust.”

More information (WMA press release, 26 June 2015)