Israeli force-feeding law pits doctors against state
Hospital-bound and shackled, Palestinian detainee Mohammed Allan was 60 days into his hunger strike, launched in protest of his detention without charge in an Israeli jail, when he slipped into unconsciousness on Friday.
What happens next — whether or not the suspected militant becomes the first Palestinian prisoner force-fed to stay alive under a controversial new Israeli law — is an issue that has caused cleavages between doctors and the state in a clash over medical ethics and Israel’s detention policies.
At the heart of the matter is the new, contentious law that allows a judge to sanction force-feeding or administration of medical treatment if there is a threat to an inmate’s life, even if the prisoner refuses. Israel fears that a hunger-striking prisoner’s death could trigger Palestinian unrest amid widespread disillusionment with stalled peace negotiations.
The law passed by a slim margin in July and elicited harsh criticism. Critics call force-feeding an unethical violation of patient autonomy and akin to torture. The Israeli Medical Association, which has urged physicians not to cooperate, is challenging the law in the Supreme Court.
“There have been clashes between the IMA and the government, but never on such basic ethical issues,” said Raphi Walden, a physician and member of the group Physicians for Hu- man Rights-Israel.
Lawmakers argued the legislation is needed to deter Palestinian detainees from hunger striking to pressure Israel for their release or other demands. Supporters also countered that force-feeding is preferable to letting a patient die.
Under the new law, Israel’s prison service needs to seek permission from the attorney general to ask a judge to allow the forcefeeding of a prisoner. The judge would then weigh a doctor’s opinion, the prisoner’s position as well as security considerations before ruling in the matter, according to the Israeli physicians’ group.
Doctors have not known how serious Allan’s situation has been lately because he refused to submit to an examination. Authorities transferred him to two different hospitals over the past week, where at each hospital an ethics committee authorized doctors to perform a forced examination.
But in both instances, doctors criticized the committee’s decision and refused. Authorities have not yet approached a court to ask for force-feeding authorization.
Israeli-Arab supporters of Mohammed Allan, a Palestinian prisoner on a hunger strike, hold signs during a support rally outside Barzilai hospital, in the costal city of Ashkelon, Israel, Tuesday, Aug. 11.