Top Doc Warns: No Force-Feeding of Terrorists

Chairman of the Medical Association says government bill allowing force-feeding hunger strikers is unethical.

Shimon Cohen, Gil Ronen,

Leonid Idelman
Leonid Idelman
Flash 90

The Chairman of the Israel Medical Association (IMA), Dr. Leonid Idelman, has published the contents of a letter he is about to send to the doctors who head the wards that are currently taking in terrorist hunger strikers. The letter, which appears in shortened form in the Doctors Only website, warns doctors not to force feed the terrorists, on ethical grounds.

"In recent weeks, many dozens of hunger striking prisoners have been transferred from the Israel Prisons Service to the hospital wards nationwide, and their number is growing daily,” he writes. “As you know, treating hunger strikers is a special challenge that the doctors are as yet unfamiliar with. The situation is unusual and requires unconventional measures.”

Idelman mentions the government bill that is intended to make it possible to feed hunger strikers by force, and says that the proposed law runs counter to the rules of medical ethics that are accepted in Israel and the rest of the world.

A recent conference, he adds, was convened to discuss this “complex situation,” with the participation of senior official sfrom the Health Ministry, hospital directors and their deputies, ward directors, heads of scientific unions in the IMA and others.

"A procedure of force feeding hunger strikers despite their objection involves a real danger to their health and is opposed to the overriding rules of non-maleficence and maintaining the patient's autonomy over his body, upon which the doctors' ethical code is based.

"Force feeding is forbidden in the ethical rules of the Medical Association, and those accepted worldwide, including Tokyo Declaration 1495 and Malta Declaration 1441 of the International Meial Association.

A hotline has been set up to assist doctors treating hunger strikers.

The Medical Association will give every doctor who requires it support and accompaniment on the professional-ethical plane, on the legal plane, and in dealing with the media . “We are prepared to deal with all of these fronts, he assures the doctors. The IMA is also about to publish an action guide for doctors taking in hunger strikers in their wards.

The Israel Prisons Service told AFP last week that there were currently 250 inmates refusing food, 90 of them for over six weeks, of whom 75 had been hospitalized.

IPS spokeswoman Sivan Weizman said this was the longest-ever mass hunger strike of Palestinian Arab terrorists in Israeli prisons. 

The Knesset approved the bill allowing force feeding of terrorists in its first reading last week, ahead of a series of debates in a committee and two further plenum votes before it passes into law. The IMA has made its opposition to the bill known for a while. 

The draft legislation, composed by the public security ministry, raised objections among leftist and Arab lawmakers, and the IMA urged Justice Minister Tzipi Livni (Hatnua) to block it. In a letter to Livni, the IMA warned the move would be "in total contradiction to internationally-accepted medical ethics" and Israel's medical ethical code.

"The proposed law is wrong ethically and professionally, it won't only damagethe patients and their medical condition, but also Israel's world standing," they wrote. "We can't accept a law that places doctors in a battle they should have no part of, in total contrast to their professional and ethical duties."

Hunger strikes are a common tactic by Palestinian Arab terrorists to gain political visibility for their cause in the international community. 

Several weeks ago, hundreds of Palestinian Arab terrorist prisoners declared a hunger strike in "solidarity" with a Hamas prisoner's solitary confinement. After a media brouhaha, the terrorists ended the hunger strike just hours after it began. 

Some 1,550 Palestinian Arabs imprisoned in Israel ended a hunger strike in May 2012, in exchange for a package of measures which would allow visits from relatives in Gaza and the transfer of detainees out of solitary confinement.