In response to over a decade of indefinite detention without charges or trial, with no foreseeable hope of ever being repatriated home, with no hope of ever seeing wives and children again, over 100 inmates at the American Gulag in Cuba are now participating in a mass hunger strike. Of the 100, our medical personnel in Guantanamo are now force feeding 21 of them using silastic nasogastric tubes. (The above image is the chair at Gitmo used to restrain prisoners while the tubes are forcibly inserted.)
The American Medical Association (AMA) has again gone on the record condemning the practice of forced feedings. In a letter to Defense Secretary Hagel, AMA President Dr. Jeremy Lazarus wrote:
“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.Let us be clear: force feeding constitutes an assault on human dignity. It violates a physician's ethical obligation to respect a patient's autonomy. Whoever these physicians are at Gitmo who are supervising and ordering the forced feedings ought to have their medical licenses revoked immediately.
“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.’”
Our President's excuse is that "I don't want these individuals to die". I wonder what he would think of a physician who performed an unwanted laparotomy on a patient for colon cancer without the patient's consent and then gave the excuse that if he didn't do the surgery the patient was sure to die? Maybe we should perform CPR on all 90 year old nursing home residents during a code blue regardless of dictates from a living will because, otherwise, without the CPR the patient would die. It's an absurd, self-indulgent, self-congratulatory statement from a morally compromised President. Why doesn't he want them to die? Because he cares about them? Because of his strong moral conscience? Or is it that the scandal of mass deaths from self-starvation at a modern gulag would represent blood on his hands?
It's difficult to imagine the degree of despair and hopelessness that would drive someone to consider death by starvation. Living here, in the suburbs with good schools and superstores and soccer practices and traffic jams and sports talk inanity and SUV's and wide expanses of useless manicured green lawns and all the fineries of middle class American life, it's unfathomable to consider the circumstances that would lead to such a choice. It's just unimaginable; to voluntarily embark upon a course of self-annihilation by denying such a core human drive as hunger
But our President thinks the solution is to demand that healthcare professionals violate a core ethic by forcibly feeding these prisoners, thereby crushing the last vestige of personal autonomy they have left. Enough is enough. It's time to close this dark chapter in American history.