Prisoner rights lawyer says force-feeding breaks international law


SACRAMENTO -- A prisoners’ rights lawyer says Monday’s federal judge’s order allowing California prison doctors to force-feed inmates on hunger strike “violates international law and generally accepted medical ethics.”

Force-feeding “should only be used as a last resort, but here there are a number of reasonable alternatives,” said Jules Lobel, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, who represents many of the hunger strike leaders in their related lawsuit over solitary confinement conditions at Pelican Bay State Prison.

California state lawyers Monday asked U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson for an order giving prison doctors wide latitude to decide when they can override prisoners’ wishes and take steps to keep them alive or prevent “great bodily harm.”


The World Medical Assn. in 2006 declared that force-feeding “contrary to an informed and voluntary refusal is unjustifiable.” However, lawyers for California Atty. Gen. Kamala D. Harris argued that some inmates were forced by prison gangs to join the hunger strike. Because of that, Henderson also gave California prison officials permission to ignore recently signed “do not resuscitate” orders.

Lobel said prison officials could avoid the need for forced feedings by allowing protesters to drink juice, or even to hasten an end to the hunger strike by negotiating with inmates over issues the state finds reasonable. The hunger strike at one prison ended last week when the warden agreed to expand canteen and television privileges.

The Center for Constitutional Rights also has advocated on behalf of U.S. military detainees on hunger strike at Guantanamo Bay, a protest now in its sixth month. The military allows protesters at Guantanamo Bay to consume juices and small amounts of food without revoking their hunger strike status but also employs involuntary feeding of those whose weight falls below target levels.


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