Forced feeding of hunger striking detainees at Guantanamo Bay, many of whom have been officially cleared for release, continues despite widespread condemnation.
While researching international law regarding hunger strikes, we came across a detailed 1991 declaration from the World Medical Association that discusses ethical considerations regarding the participation of medical professionals in the forced feeding of hunger strikers. The declaration is very clear on the issue of respect for the autonomy of any individual who chooses to refuse food:
2. Respect for autonomy. Physicians should respect individuals’ autonomy. This can involve difficult assessments as hunger strikers’ true wishes may not be as clear as they appear. Any decisions lack moral force if made involuntarily by use of threats, peer pressure or coercion. Hunger strikers should not be forcibly given treatment they refuse. Forced feeding contrary to an informed and voluntary refusal is unjustifiable.
Authorities attempt to portray tube feeding as a benign administrative procedure applied for humanitarian reasons, yet the reality is a violent and painful assault. Consider the vivid description given by Djuna Barnes in 1914:
Of course, we are far more “civilized” nowadays; our technology more subtle and humane.