Medical association opposes force-feeding amendment

Law could lead doctors to hook up prisoners to tubes; Health Ministry says it is full of checks and balances.-

Israel Prison Service guards  (photo credit: REUTERS)
Israel Prison Service guards
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The Israel Medical Association has issued its objection to the approval by the Ministerial Committee on Legislation this week of an amendment that could lead to force-feeding of prisoners.
In a letter to Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Science, Technology and Space Minister Yaakov Peri, IMA chairman Dr. Leonid Eidelman said that it has opposed the amendment for a long time. Giving a prisoner medical treatment against his will or force-feeding him using a food tube introduced into his nose runs counter to the will of the prisoner, he said.
This amendment is a fundamental change that contradicts accepted medical ethics practices around the world that are set down in international declarations including those of the IMA, added Eidelman, who signed the letter along with Prof.
Avinoam Reches, chairman of the IMA’s ethics bureau.
The IMA argued against the amendment on the grounds that force-feeding can pose a serious danger to the prisoner’s health and violates the ethical rule of doing no harm.
Eidelman said the amendment is “not realistic and contains nothing to help solve any problem. It creates the illusion that force-feeding can be used to prevent harm to the health of hunger-striking prisoners, but it does not!” But Prof. Arnon Afek, the Health Ministry’s head of medical administration, who will on June 1 take over as director-general from Prof. Ronni Gamzu, insisted that the matter must be put into proportion.
“The amendment would be just one tool in dealing with many aspects of caring for prisoners.
Most of it involves medical treatment and not force-feeding.
There are many checks and balances in the amendment,” Afek told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday.
“Force feeding is an extreme, rare act. A physician would not be required to do anything to a patient against his will; the implementation must be approved by a district court president or vice president, and an appeal can be made to the Supreme Court. I trust the integrity of the courts. The IMA’s position is extreme,” said Afek, an IMA member himself. “I personally think the proposed amendment is very balanced, and I hope we won’t have to get to extremes.”
Eidelman said that since the proposal for the amendment was first publicized “we have heard about growing concern among well-known bodies in Israel and abroad that want to express their opposition to it and warn against its implications for the medical community in Israel if the law is approved.
In addition, we know that a similar law was considered in neighboring Arab countries but rejected after they understood that there is no place for it in modern societies.”
The IMA insisted that the amendment is not only “invalid from an ethical and professional point of view but will also counter the good of the prisoners and their medical situation and the image of Israel in the world. We cannot accept such a law that will place Israeli doctors at the front in contravention of their professional obligations and ethics.”
The association thus called in Livni and Peri to change their minds urgently and appeal to the whole cabinet to change the government’s position. A copy of the letter was also sent to Health Minister Yael German and Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein.