18 Health & Human Rights organizations call on the World Medical Association (WMA) to publicly voice its objection to different attempts around the world to pressure physicians to participate in force-feeding: “In face of this onslaught on medical integrity and ethics it is crucial that the leadership of the medical community – the WMA – take a clear and immediate position, and publicly denounce those attempts.” The organizations say that attempts to prevent such measures by referring governments and authorities to the different declarations and treaties are no longer enough. They ask the WMA to demand authorities will respect medical autonomy and ethics and refrain from allowing, condoning, legalizing or urging for force-feeding. They call for forced feeding to be unequivocally recognized as torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. The letter comes as Israel’s bill to force feed hunger striking prisoners enters its final stages and while in Guantánamo the practice of forced feeding is still intact.
In the letter address to WMA’s president Dr. Margaret Mungherera, its chairman of the council Dr. Mukesh Haikerwal, and Secretary general, Dr. Otmar Kloiber, the organizations stress: “We feel that in face of this onslaught on medical integrity and ethics it is crucial that the leadership of the medical community – the WMA – will take a clear and immediate position, and publicly condemn those attempts.” The letter than goes on to explain the situation in Israel, where despite the objection Israel’s medical community, the governments expedite a legislation that will enable force-feeding of Palestinian prisoners and detainees undergoing hunger strike. It describes the US policy at Guantánamo Bay where “the U.S. military has responded to the protests by subjecting hunger strikers to force-feeding, which involves strapping detainees into restraint chairs and inserting a tube through their nose into their stomach, sometimes more than once a day”. The organizations mention Turkey as a place where a bitter struggle was held by the medical community, that has an immense experience with hunger strikes documenting the terrible health implications of force feeding.
The organization mention that such a public stand is in line with the WMA repeated condemnation of force-feeding of competent prisoners: “The WMA’s Tokyo Declaration, adopted in 1975, states that doctors shall respect a competent prisoner’s right to refuse artificial feeding. And, in its Declaration of Malta on Hunger Strikers, adopted in 1991 and revised in 2006 in large part due to developments in Guantánamo, the WMA states that “forcible feeding is never ethically acceptable. Even if intended to benefit,” The need for public condemnation of specific attempts and policies is urgent, claim the organizations, “since attempts to prevent such measures by referring governments and authorities to the different declarations and treaties mentioned are no longer enough.” It is therefore that they urge the WMA to directly confront the issue and publicly address relevant governments and authorities demanding them to respect medical autonomy and ethics and refrain from allowing, condoning, legalizing or urging for forced feeding. It is and should be unequivocally be defined as torture or CIDT. The letter was sent by Association of Democratic Doctors in Germany; Belgian Association of Medical Unions; Center for Constitutional Rights, United States; Centro di Salute Internazionale (CSI – Centre for International Health), Italy; Doctors for Human Rights, United Kingdom; Health and Human Rights Programme, University of Cape Town, South Africa; Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (HRFT); IFHHRO (International Federation of Health and Human Rights Organizations), Netherlands; Johannes Wier Foundation for Health and Human Rights, Netherlands; Osservatorio Italiano sulla Salute Globale (OISG – Italian Global Health Watch), Italy; Rete Italiana per l’Insegnamento della Salute Globale (RIISG – Italian Network for Global Health Education), Italy; MEDACT, United Kingdom; Medico International, Germany; National Lawyers Guild, United States; People’s Health Movement (Europe); Physicians for Human Rights, United States; Physicians for Human Rights – Israel and T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, United States.