Prisoners who go on hunger strike may be anesthetized to enable them being force-fed, if a bill on the issue passes its final vote Monday.
The Knesset Interior Committee prepared the legislation for its second and third readings Wednesday, adding some changes ostensibly for prisoners’ comfort and safety, but arousing controversy after it emerged in an exchange between committee members that anesthetizing a prisoner may be permitted in order to avoid “causing pain and suffering.”
While the committee approved an article requiring a doctor to try to persuade a prisoner to be force-fed by explaining the adverse effects of a hunger strike on his health and detailing the procedure, the article would permit a doctor to use reasonable force if the prisoner refuses to be fed. The article encourages the doctor to apply the procedure “without causing pain and suffering.”
MK Ahmed Tibi (UAL-Ta’al), a medical doctor, asked Public Security Ministry legal adviser Yoel Hadar what it means to administer the treatment without causing pain and suffering, and Hadar explained that, in some cases, anesthesia could be used.
“What? You will put all the prisoners to sleep in order to force-feed them? This is an outrage!” Tibi shouted.
The attorney did not go into details of whether the anesthesia would be local or general and did not say that all hunger- striking prisoners would be subject to it.
“One day, you will be sent to the International Criminal Court,” MK Tamar Zandberg (Meretz) said to Hadar.
MK Yifat Kariv (Yesh Atid) said that the article stating doctors should not cause pain and suffering is an oxymoron, because forced-feeding inevitably causes pain and suffering.
“It’s unacceptable that a government employee said things that are illegal, inappropriate, and immoral in the Knesset, the fortress of Israeli democracy,” she stated after the committee meeting, calling for Hadar to apologize.
Kariv, the only coalition MK to vote against the legislation, also wrote a letter of complaint to Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein complaining that the bill was being rushed. If it passes on Monday, this will be within two weeks of first reaching the Knesset, where it was the subject of five committee meetings this week.
During Wednesday’s meeting, MK Bassel Ghattas (Balad) lamented that the rush in passing the bill serves political goals.
Zandberg said the law goes against international treaties, but legal advisers in the room corrected her that those are not treaties, but rather declarations by professional organizations.
At the end of the meeting, Knesset Interior Committee chairwoman Miri Regev (Likud Beytenu) defended the speedy legislative process, saying she gave time to every MK and NGO that wanted to speak. As for the IMA’s claim that the bill is not ethical, Regev said that not all ethicists agree on the matter and the bill does not force any doctor to take care of prisoners on hunger strike.
Although the bill provides that only a doctor can administer the feeding by IV or gastrostomy tube, and the procedure may take place only in a hospital, the Israel Medical Association has instructed doctors not to obey the law if it passes.
As such, many in the Knesset see the bill as impossible to implement, but rather a way of threatening prisoners in an attempt to get them to stop their hunger strike.