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Trust, not torture, key to resolving hunger strike, Israeli Govt told

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The Israeli Government has been urged to strike down proposals making it legal to force-feed hunger striking detainees.

In a letter to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, World Medical Association President Dr Margaret Mungherera, and WMA Chair Dr Mukesh Haikerwal, have condemned force-feeding as tantamount to torture, and have asked that a proposed law to legalise it be rejected.

The WMA call has come amidst a hunger strike by as many as 125 Palestinian detainees in Israeli prisons that has been going for more than 60 days.

The Israeli parliament, the Knesset, is considering a law that would allow the hunger strikers to be force-fed, a prospect that has alarmed the Israeli Medical Association and the WMA.

The Israel Medical Association (IMA) has urged physicians not to cooperate with the government’s plans. “It goes against the DNA of the doctors to force treatment on a patient,” spokeswoman Ziva Miral told Al Jazeera America news service. “Force-feeding is torture, and we can’t have doctors participating in torture.”

In their letter, Dr Mungherera and Dr Haikerwal wrote that “force feeding is violent, often painful and absolutely against the principle of individual autonomy. It is degrading treatment, inhumane, and may amount to torture”.

They said it was a “most unsuitable” approach to saving lives, and doctors should not be involved in it “in any way”.

Mr Netanyahu has been reported as pushing for the force-feeding legislation to be fast-tracked, with backers arguing it is a safety measure aimed at not only saving the lives of hunger strikers but also heading off a wave of potentially violent protests if a hunger striker dies.

But Dr Haikerwal and Dr Mungherera said there were much better ways of dealing with hunger strikes than force-feeding.

They said evidence showed the best approach was to establish and maintain a trusting and respectful doctor-patient relationship.

“The IMA can help,” they wrote. “Our Israeli colleagues are about to deal with the situation, if only they are allowed to establish a real patient-physician relationship without threats and interference from prison authorities. Force-feeding is completely incompatible with this methodology, and it destroys any patient-physician trust.”

Adrian Rollins