After hearing that the Justice Ministry is preparing a bill that would allow, with a court’s permission, the forced-feeding of security prisoners that are refusing to eat, the Israel Medical Association voiced its strong opposition on Sunday.

IMA chairman Dr. Leon Eidelman said that such a law would “violate the rules of international ethics.”

He added that the professional organization’s position on forced feeding of prisoners was clear: “Hunger strikers – including security prisoners – may not be fed against their will if they are able to voice their positions and understand the significance of the refusal to accept medical treatment.”

In a letter sent last Thursday to Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, Eidelman expressed his “great concern” about the bill being prepared in her office.

The issue of political hunger strikers “is a difficult and painful one. No one wants to see the death of another human, and it is worse for doctors not to take action to treat people who harm themselves and starve to death. But at the same time, the prohibition against force-feeding of prisoners is among the clear and solid ethical principles in the modern and enlightened world,” he wrote.

This principle, Eidelman continued, was aimed at preventing harm to a human being’s autonomy.

It is based on the 1991 Malt Declaration of the World Medical Association. In fact, Prof. George Annas, the noted bioethicist at the Boston University School of Public Health, has stated in the New England Journal of Medicine that the forced feeding of a person who is able to decide for himself “is not the practice of medicine; it is aggravated assault.” Eidelman, an anesthesiologist by profession, demanded that the Justice Ministry reconsider its position.

“Experience from dealing with mass hunger strikes of people under arrest and prisoners,” he concluded, “has shown that doctors in the Israel Prison Service and hospitals where they were treated have been successful without forced feeding, and that ‘not a single prisoner has died’ in this way. The doctors have also been praised by the International Red Cross.”

No comment was issued by the Justice Ministry’s spokesman.

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