Intended for healthcare professionals


Force feeding of mentally competent detainees at Guantánamo Bay

BMJ 2013; 347 doi: (Published 12 July 2013) Cite this as: BMJ 2013;347:f4454
  1. Eleanor Chrispin, senior ethics adviser1,
  2. Vivienne Nathanson, director of professional activities2
  1. 1BMA Ethics Department, BMA, London WC1H 9JP, UK
  2. 2BMA, London, UK
  1. echrispin{at}

Doctors should resist this violation of human rights and their ethical codes

Protests against the force feeding of mentally competent detainees at the Guantánamo Bay naval base are growing in volume and number. Doctors are increasingly among those expressing concern. This year’s annual representative meeting of the BMA condemned the participation of doctors and nurses in force feeding, branding it a “stain on medical ethics.”1 In doing so, the BMA added its voice to that of the American Medical Association, which denounced the practice in a letter to the secretary of defense of the United States,2 and in a BMJ editorial.3 Individual doctors on both sides of the Atlantic have publicly expressed their alarm.4 5 While the US authorities continue to pursue a medically supervised regime of force feeding, the more insistent the medical community’s protests will become.

The forced enteral feeding of competent adults, protesting at being held without charge, is a human rights issue. The use of doctors and nurses as instruments to violate detainees’ fundamental rights is an issue of both human rights and medical ethics. If the current situation at Guantánamo is a stain on the US authorities’ respect for individual rights, which President Obama acknowledged in a speech he delivered in May,6 it is also a stain on the integrity of the …

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