Should doctors force-feed him?
Is it unethical to force-feed hunger strikers? Many
ethicists regarded force-feeding of detainees at Guantanamo as tantamount to
torture. But in Switzerland, a hunger-striking cannabis farmer has put a bizarre
twist on a complex issue.
Bernard Rappaz, 57, has been on a hunger strike for more
than 80 days in protest at a prison sentence he considers too high. He is a
well-known figure in Switzerland. In 2008 he was convicted of having 51 tons of
hemp valued at US$38 million. He was sentenced to 5 years and 8 months
imprisonment. Then began a series of hunger strikes in prison and recuperation
under house arrest.
After he was charged with even more offences, he was jailed
again and began his current hunger strike. So far, doctors in two hospitals
have refused to force-feed him. His stand has become a huge controversy in
The doctors insist that force-feeding is unethical. But a
criminal law professor at Zurich University, Christian Schwarzenegger, believes
that “Under Article 292 of the Penal Code on insubordination, judges
should prosecute any doctors refusing to force feed Rappaz…”
Many Swiss think that Rappaz is holding them hostage. According
to opinion polls, about 65% of Swiss think that force-feeding Mr Rappaz is unethical.
But about 65% also think that he should not be released from jail on
humanitarian grounds. Rappaz has asked for clemency from the parliament
of the canton of Valois. But on Thursday, this was refused by an
overwhelming majority. “When you do something bad, you have to pay for it,”
said one MP unsympathetically.
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