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Force-Feeding of Immigrants in Detention Centers Violates Medical Ethics

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is force-feeding nine people who are on a hunger strike while held in immigration detention centers in Texas. Physicians for Human Rights has long been on the record that force-feeding against an individual’s wishes is unethical and inhumane. Force-feeding disregards the informed decision of those peacefully protesting conditions within detention facilities, while ignoring the core issues to which detainees are responding.

PHR calls on ICE to immediately halt the practice of force-feeding and strongly recommends that Congress fund alternatives to detention programming that represent a long-term solution to prevent these and other human rights violations documented in immigration detention.

Physicians for Human Rights senior medical advisor Dr. Vincent Iacopino, an expert on health and human rights, said the following in response to ICE’s force-feeding of detainees:

“Force-feeding is unethical, cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment, and – in some cases – the practice can amount to torture. These detainees are hunger striking to protest their conditions of confinement. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and U.S. courts must recognize hunger strikes as political protest and respond to their concerns, not shackle and force-feed them. Doctors must not be forced to violate their professional obligation to respect the informed decisions of a competent patient.

“What we see in these cases of force-feeding is the same cruel intentionality as in family separation – the government is committing acts of intentional harm in order to deter people from crossing the border.”

The U.S. immigration detention system has demonstrated repeatedly inhumane treatment of detainees and a dangerous lack of accountability and transparency. As a solution for avoiding these violations, Physicians for Human Rights calls on Congress to exercise its oversight function over Department of Homeland Security agencies and to release asylum seekers and other vulnerable immigrants to community settings.

PHR has long opposed force-feeding and has expressed serious concerns about health care at detention facilities at the border. Additional resources from PHR are available at:
Blog Post: How U.S. Immigration Policies Threaten Access to Health (November 15, 2018)
Blog Post: Detention Facilities Display Dangerous Trend of Delayed and Inadequate Care (June 20, 2018)
Fact Sheet: Hunger Strikes and the Practice of Force-Feeding (October 1, 2013)
Blog Post: Force Feeding Violates Basic Medical Ethics and Our Core Values (August 9, 2013)

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to prevent mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.

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