Here’s what you need to know about force-feeding

Published July 30th, 2015 - 08:05 GMT
Israel on Thursday passed a law that would allow force-feeding prisoners on hunger strikes. (Shutterstock)
Israel on Thursday passed a law that would allow force-feeding prisoners on hunger strikes. (Shutterstock)

The Israeli parliament on Thursday passed a law that would allow force-feeding prisoners on hunger strikes, a practice medical organizations have denounced as "torture" and a violation against human rights.

The reality is, not very many people understand the intricacies of force-feeding, and how it can cause major harm. The thought of injecting the necessary nutrition to avoid a prisoner's death doesn't sound wrong in theory.

Here are some of the major problems with the practice:

Refeeding Syndrome: If it comes to the point where prisoners are being force-fed, they haven't been eating for several days. Exposing a body to a large amount of that nutrition in a short span of time can be dangerous. To name just a few long-term consequences, the patient is at risk of developing electrolyte disorders, heart complications or neurological problems.

Restraint: Tying a prisoner down to a chair and trying to force a tube down his or her nose often leads to tissue damage and lots of pain. Doctors also need to make sure the feeding tube is in exactly the right place. A tube placed incorrectly, with even just a little bit of food in the airways, can cause lasting health problems.

Medications: When the force-feeding is against their will, prisoners are most likely medicated throughout the procedure. Drugs can have a long-lasting impact — from physical side effects, to dependence, to mental health problems like depression.

These consequences are worse if the decisions on medication are made hastily in a time of crisis, and without access to important background information the prisoner isn't willing to give.

An important distinction to make between a prisoner and a patient is the extra use of restraint and medications throughout the process. The intention to keep a person alive seems benign — but keeping the person's interest in mind is an important part of making force-feeding a humane procedure.

By Hayat Norimine


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