Military Medical Ethics – Scenario Database

Hunger strike to protest against detention

ID/Number: 4
Last updated: 12 Aug, 2019
Revision: 4
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A person or group of persons in military custody refuse to eat (i.e., they go on "hunger strike"). They do so

  • to protest against their being detained,
  • to protest against the conditions of their detention,
  • or other political reasons/ to promote their cause,
  • because of some psychological illness/ depression.

Authorities then order the force-feeding of the hunger strikers in order to avoid damage to their health.

Military physicians are ordered to execute the force-feeding, assisted by other non-medical military personnel and against the will of the detainees.

Source: Fictitious

Questions for the discussion of this scenario

1. Is forced feeding of detainees, or POWs ever justifiable or should the autonomous decision of the hunger striker prevail?
2. At which time, if ever, should force-feeding be taken into account?
3. Should the motivation/ the reasons of the hunger striker influence the assessment of force-feeding him?

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Military order
This scenario is also listed in the following categories
folder Military Medical Ethics Scenarios -> Treatment of captured/ detained persons -> Hunger strike/ food refusal
folder Military Medical Ethics Scenarios -> Neutrality of the medical personnel

External links WMA Malta Declaration Hunger strikes in prisons: the ICRC's position