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.

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