AMA opposes forced feedings at Guantánamo

The American Medical Association has written a letter to the Pentagon stating that “force feeding of detainees violates core ethical values of the medical profession.”

The Miami Herald on Tuesday obtained a copy of the April 25 letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel from Dr. Jeremy Lazarus, the AMA president. The Pentagon had no immediate response on whether Hagel had read it, or had a deputy reply.

In the letter Lazarus advised Hagel that the AMA opposes force-feeding a detainee who is competent to decide for himself whether he wants to eat.

“Every competent patient has the right to refuse medical intervention, including life-sustaining interventions,” Lazarus said, adding that the AMA took the same position on force-feeding Guantánamo prisoners in 2009 and 2005.

“The AMA has long endorsed the World Medical Association Declaration of Tokyo, which is unequivocal on the point: ‘Where a prisoner refuses nourishment and is considered by the physician as capable of forming an unimpaired and rational judgment concerning the consequences of such a voluntary refusal of nourishment, he or she shall not be fed artificially.’ ”

At Guantánamo, Army Lt. Col. Samuel House reported no change overnight in the military’s hunger strike count:

Five of the 100 hunger strikers were hospitalized, none in critical condition, all among the 21 captives being force-fed nutritional supplements.

The Pentagon has 166 prisoners at Guantánamo, ages 27 or 28 to 65.

According to Guantánamo media briefings, the feedings are generally carried out by enlisted sailors who are specialized medical assistants, called corpsmen — after an Army guard has taken a captive from his cell and shackled him into a restraint chair.

Doctors and nurses supervise the corpsmen, who have no role in deciding which captive should have a tube snaked up his nose and into his stomach before pumping can of Ensure into the shackled prisoner.

On Monday, a Guantánamo spokesman said military medical staff at the prison had reached nearly 140 — or a 1-to-1 prisoner-to-health provider ratio. The Virginia Pilot newspaper in Norfolk reported Tuesday that the Portsmouth Naval Medical Center had sent four Navy nurses and 14 corpsmen over the weekend.

“We will not allow a detainee to starve themselves to death and we will continue to treat each person humanely,” House said.

“Detainees are given a choice: eat the hot meal, drink the supplement, or be enteral fed,” he added, using the medical term for nasogastric tube feedings.

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