Military doctors urged to refuse force-feeding at Guantanamo

GUANTANAMO BAY U.S. NAVAL BASE, Cuba Wed Jun 12, 2013 9:03pm EDT

A selection of lunch meals offered to detainees are displayed in a food preparation area at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, March 7, 2013. REUTERS/Bob Strong

A selection of lunch meals offered to detainees are displayed in a food preparation area at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, March 7, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Bob Strong

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GUANTANAMO BAY U.S. NAVAL BASE, Cuba (Reuters) - U.S. military doctors should refuse orders to force-feed hunger strikers at the Guantanamo detention camp because it violates their ethical obligations, two doctors and a medical ethics professor wrote in the New England Journal of Medicine on Wednesday.

"Force-feeding a competent person is not the practice of medicine; it is aggravated assault," the trio said in an article posted on the website of the respected medical journal.

"Physicians at Guantanamo cannot permit the military to use them and their medical skills for political purposes and still comply with their ethical obligations," wrote Doctors Sondra Crosby and Leonard Glantz, and George Annas, a lawyer who chairs the Health Law, Bioethics and Human Rights Department at Boston University.

The detention camp at the Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base in Cuba holds 166 men captured in counterterrorism operations, more than half of whom have been cleared for release during U.S. military and intelligence reviews.

At least 104 of them have joined a months-long hunger strike to protest the failure to resolve their fate after a decade of detention, and 43 have lost enough weight that doctors are feeding them liquid meals through tubes inserted in their noses and down into their stomachs, a military spokesman said.

Prisoners who refuse can be strapped into restraint chairs to immobilize them during the procedure.

The journal authors noted that the American Medical Association and the World Medical Association , which represents the medical associations of nearly 100 countries, have long held that force-feeding mentally competent adults who refuse food is a violation of medical ethics.

They urged military doctors to stop the force-feeding, urged the Pentagon to rescind a 2006 instruction permitting the practice and said military doctors should not be disciplined for refusing to force-feed prisoners.

Navy Captain Robert Durand, a spokesman for the detention operation, said the tube-feeding procedure is court-approved and medically sound and is based on procedures used in U.S. prisons, hospitals and nursing homes worldwide.

"It is the policy of the Department of Defense to protect the life and health of detainees by humane and appropriate clinical means, and in accordance with all applicable law and policy," Durand said.

"The policy on treatment of hunger strikers is focused solely on preserving the life and health of detainees in Department of Defense custody, and is consistent with treatment that would be provided for U.S. military personnel under similar circumstances."

The journal authors said that policy mistakenly conflates hunger striking with suicide prevention.

"Hunger strikers are not attempting to commit suicide. Rather, they are willing to risk death if their demands are not met. Their goal is not to die but to have perceived injustices addressed," they wrote.

One of the authors, Crosby, has served as a medical consultant to attorneys representing detainees at Guantanamo Bay, and has examined some of them at the base, including a hunger striker. She is scheduled to examine another prisoner who blames his post-traumatic stress disorder on torture in CIA custody.

(Editing by Mohammad Zargham)

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Comments (3)
Harry079 wrote:
I’ve read that Gitmo is the best duty Military personel can get. You can bring your family, pets and even get combat pay.

Refusing orders can get you some time in the brig and get you a dishonorable discharge out of the military.

“cannot permit the military to use them and their medical skills for political purposes and still comply with their ethical obligations,” wrote Doctors Sondra Crosby and Leonard Glantz, and George Annas, a lawyer who chairs the Health Law, Bioethics and Human Rights Department at Boston University.”

That sound like a fine place to send all the Gitmo detainees. They can take some home for dinner and later do puzzles with the kids.

Jun 12, 2013 10:08pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
QuidProQuo wrote:
I would think would be a huge ethical issue for any doctor being ordered to force feed a mentally competent human. Personally, I say let them starve if that’s what they decide. As long as the overseers of Gitmo are humane people and offer them nutrition, their hunger strike is a choice they make. No guilt born on USA for providing good food that is refused. Tube feeding is an accepted method of giving nutirition for people who cannot eat themselves, who are too mentally incapacitated to know logically that one must take in nutrition, etc.
Force feeding pissed off prisoners who are crying about their injustices is NOT a reason to order doctors tube feed someone. Let them starve if they want. And they can go to their idea of Paradise hungry.

Jun 13, 2013 9:50am EDT  --  Report as abuse
dgc wrote:
Please let the detainees on hunger strike practice what they want. Maby they just want to diet and loose some weight. If they choose a course of action (eating) it is a personal choice. If they expire because of the choices they make SO BE IT.

Jun 13, 2013 1:42pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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