Open Letter: Support the opposition to force feeding of hunger strikers in Israel

Mark Porter chair BMA, David McCoy chair Medact, Cornelius Katona medical director, Helen Bamber Foundation, Iain Chalmers coordinator, James Lind Initiative , Frank Arnold coordinator, Medact preventing torture working group The Israeli parliament, the Knesset, is set to vote on an amendment to its Prisons Act mandating doctors to force feed mentally competent prisoners on hunger strikes.1 The proposed amendment is a response to a mass hunger strike staged by Palestinian detainees against their internment without trial (“administrative detention”).

Force feeding of hungerstrikersis prohibited by the Declarations of Tokyo and Malta of the World Medical Association (WMA). The UN special rapporteurs on torture and the right to health have urged Israel not to pass the law, defining force feeding as “cruel and inhuman” under the UN Convention Against Torture.2 The Israel Medical Association (IMA) has taken a principled stance against the law and is issuing guidance to doctors to refuse to comply with the law.3 4

However, doctors working for the Israel Prisons Service and the Israeli military are not members of the IMA and are therefore more vulnerable to pressure. The Ministry of Health is responsible for licensing doctors in Israel, and unfortunately it is a key supporter of the legislation. In response to requestsfrom Physiciansfor Human Rights-Israel and other groups worldwide, on 18 June the WMA sent a letter to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, warning him against the use of force feeding and supporting the IMA.5 On 26 June, the BMA Annual Representative Meeting passed an emergency motion “wholeheartedly” supporting the IMA in its opposition to the law.

The IMA should be applauded for its principled stance in this matter. The global medical community should support its efforts by urging the Israeli government and Ministry of Health to withdraw the law.

View and download PDF here. 1 Amendment to the Prisons Act (New Form). [Preventing damages due to hunger strikes.] 2013.
2 UN Office for the High Commissioner on Human Rights. Force feeding is cruel and inhuman—UN experts urge Israel not to make it legal. 2014.
3 Siegel-Itzkovich J. Israel Medical Association fights to stop legalisation of force feeding prisoners on hunger strike. BMJ 2014;348:g3844. (10 June.)
4 Israeli Medical Association. Force feeding hunger strikers.
5 World Medical Association press release 19 June 2014. Israeli premier urged to reconsider proposed law allowing forced feeding of hunger strikers. 2014.