AP Interview: Israel doctors against force-feeding

AP News
Posted: Jun 20, 2014 6:58 AM
AP Interview: Israel doctors against force-feeding

RAMAT GAN, Israel (AP) — Israeli doctors "absolutely refuse to cooperate" with government plans to force-feed hunger-striking Palestinian prisoners, the head of the country's medical association said in an interview, rejecting the practice as a form of torture and a violation of medical ethics.

A bill allowing force-feeding could receive final approval in Israel's parliament as early as Monday. The vote comes as a hunger-strike by dozens of Palestinian detainees is entering its third month. Eighty of the hunger strikers have been hospitalized.

Under the draft bill before the Knesset, a judge could sanction force-feeding if an inmate's life is perceived to be in danger. The government, which proposed the bill, argues that a death in custody could trigger unrest in prisons or the Palestinian territories and harm Israel's security.

Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon said it would also deprive detainees of a means to "threaten and blackmail the system."

However, the Israeli Medical Association, which has 22,000 active members, is vehemently opposed.

"This law is unethical and I believe that professional ethics in medicine is above the law," Dr. Leonid Eidelman, the president of the association, told The Associated Press in an interview at his office on Thursday. "It's very important to behave according to ethical principles even if it contradicts the law. And force-feeding is a kind of torture."

The Israeli association won backing for its stance Thursday from the World Medical Association, an umbrella group for national medical associations.

In an appeal to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the leaders of the WMA urged him to reconsider the legislation, writing that "force-feeding is violent, often painful and ... the most unsuitable approach to save lives."

Netanyahu was quoted as saying earlier this month that doctors would be found to force-feed prisoners, despite the opposition from the medical establishment, and that hunger strikers are force-fed at the U.S.-run Guantanamo Bay detention camp for suspected militants.

Eidelman said that in light of strong opposition from doctors, he believes it's unlikely the law will be implemented. "We absolutely refuse to cooperate with this law," he said.

The U.S.-based Physicians for Human Rights has said it is not aware of prisoners being force-fed anywhere except Guantanamo, but that it is often difficult to get access to prisons to verify their practices.

There have, however, been past cases of force-feeding, including of prisoners from Germany's radical leftist Red Army Faction in the 1970s.