The ethics of force-feeding prisoners on hunger strike

I was planning to write a long post but then figured it would be best to lay it out in several short bullet points:

  1. Some people have denounced the force-feeding of prisoners who are on hunger strike, calling it torture, but what is the alternative? Let them starve to death?
  2. Is there a moral obligation to force-feed a prisoner who is willfully, voluntarily trying to starve himself to death, just like there is an obligation to save a prisoner from a suicide attempt?
  3. Is there legal liability in the United States if a prison fails to force-feed a hunger-striking prisoner who dies of starvation as a result? (Assuming food is always made available to him but he chooses all along to refuse it.)

Well, I suppose the only other alternative is to let them go or give in to whatever their other demand is, yeah. Pretty small solution set.

Yeah, I think there is a moral obligation to not allow a prisoner to kill themselves, regardless of how they want to do it.

There are ramifications in prisons for any prisoner who dies, and often funding can be withdrawn from prisons or detention centers where a prisoner might die pending an investigation, at least from what I’ve seen.

True. But then that leaves only force-feeding, or caving in to the prisoner’s demands as the only two other options.

Caving in to demands would set a bad precedent and might not even be feasible.
So…people who protest against force feeding prisoners on hunger strike don’t seem to have any other viable options to suggest either.

It’s supposed to be a forked dilemma though. That’s the whole point (I’m glossing over the fact that force feeding can and has been used for actual torture btw, but focused on the general issue). People who are starving themselves to death are generally doing it to protest something or get affect some change, so they are setting up a damned if you do damned if you don’t situation by emphasizing the torture aspect. Don’t feed them and let them die and you are a monster (plus you could have your funding pulled or reviewed, which is probably more of a vital issue). Feed them and you are torturing them and you are a monster. You don’t want to be a monster, right? Well, just accede to the demand and you won’t be a monster…

Let them starve. I really don’t understand why it’s an issue.

Me too. No one should be forced to eat if they don’t wish to.

We’ve had this thread before. Medical personnel generally consider force-feeding of a conscious patient (or an unconscious one who has left DNR instructions) unethical. There can be a countervailing concern in some group hunger strike situations, however – that some participants might be coerced by others in the group into going along or signing DNR instructions when they don’t really wish to.

And letting them die is ethical? :confused:

We let patients refuse lifesaving procedures all the time. Consider Jehovah’s Witnesses refusing blood transfusions, cancer patients refusing chemo, muslims refusing heart transplants from a pig, etc.

Regardless of any ethical considerations, prisoners ought to be force-fed to prevent them from dying and thus becoming martyrs (see Bobby Sands).

Sorry, didn’t know that. My bad.

You have summed up what’s wrong with your side of the argument in five words.

Doing something unethical because it is convenient is evil, Qin. You should not be subjecting prisoners to unethical medical treatments just because bringing public attention to their indefinite detention and torture might cause you problems.

There are other consequences.

Those cultures that see force feeding as torture (the whole of the rest of the Western World for instance) will add it as a further state crime by a country that already chooses to torture people in Guantanamo, Dark sites and elsewhere, and also tortures people over decades on death rows.

It does nothing for the standing of the USA in the rest of the civilised world.

It does seem paradoxical that the same system that is willing to put people to death by the state works so hard to stop people ending their own lives, normally a legal choice.

So, in other words, if they want to starve, let them starve. Got it.

If a person in the community decides to starve themselves to death and they have capacity, the civilised state does not interfere. We stopped suicide being a crime decades ago.

The faux argument that detention allows state actors to act in their perceived view of the detained people strains human rights. Effectively it is a corporal punishment-forcing a bodily change against the real wishes of the detained person. This places the right of the state above the human right of the citizen. In other more civilised jurisdictions there is a firm rule that people are sent to prison AS punishment, not FOR punishment- we gave up the doctrine of hard labour and other corporal punishment generations ago, and prisons elsewhere recognise all the human rights of the detainee.

Outside of the USA, prisoner’ human rights are upheld, including the right to kill oneself if they have capacity to make that decision.

I very much doubt that letting people starve to death will improve the standing of the US in the rest of the civilized world, either.

As already mentioned, it’s a damned if you damned if you don’t situation but the people responsible for the continued existence of Gitmo don’t really give a damn what the rest of the world thinks. If they did, the place would have been shut down years ago.

The problem is that the rest of the civilised world considers it ethical to allow people their human rights rather than to claim a state right over the body. AFAIK the USA is the only western country that force feeds hunger striking prisoners. We consider it ethical to allow individuals to have control over their own bodies, even in prison.

Should a diabetic prisoner who refuses treatment be captured by jailers multiple times a day for blood glucose determination and insulin administration?

Should a prisoner with appendicitis who chooses prayer over surgery be forced to accept effective treatment?

If they have capacity then their wishes should be met.

The only real reason used to enforce feeding is a desire to impose the view of the state on a citizen.

So much for Land of the Free. Elsewhere people retain their human rights when incarcerated; in the USA the State owns the body of the detainee.

Should the navy nurse who refused to force feed Guantanamo prisoners be discharged?
Is it wrong to force feed a prisoner on hunger strike?