Hospitalized hunger-striking prisoners: the role of ethics consultations

Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy 19 (4):623-628 (2016)
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We refer to hospitalized convicted hunger strikers in Padua Hospital who decided to fast for specific reasons, often demanding, to be heard by the judge, to complain about the existing custodial situation or to claim unjust treatment. The medical ethics of hunger strikers are debated because the use of force feeding by physicians is widely condemned as unethical, but courts, in Italy, sometimes order to transfer the convicted person to hospital and oblige healthcare practitioners to perform forcible feeding. This can engender a profound insecurity for the physicians taking action on the one hand, while preventing patients from fully availing themselves of this principle of self-determination on the other. Physicians are mainly concerned about how to manage this situation and they may request ethical consultation. When it comes to managing hospitalized hunger strikers, the ethics consultant may be able to facilitate the relationship between physicians and hunger strikers, enhance the latter’s trust in the former, ensuring that strikers are aware of the risks associated with their fasting, and helping them to arrive of their own free will at the right decision concerning their behavior and their demands.



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