By Samuel Burke, CNN
There’s a life-and-death tug-of-war going on between President Barack Obama and more than 100 prisoners who would rather die than stay alive forever at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility.
Nearly all of the inmates there have never been charged with a crime.
Twenty-three detainees and counting have lost so much weight that they are being force-fed.
A doctor's code is "do no harm," but it is also to respect the autonomy or the independence of the patient.
That’s according to world-renowned bioethicist Arthur Caplan of the NYU Medical Center.
“A patient has a right to say no to all medical treatments. We've established that again and again and again in the U.S. Think about Terry Schiavo,” Caplan told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Wednesday.
“These patients are prisoners, but they don't want it,” Caplan said. “So the balance is, I think, don't treat them when they say ‘no’ and don't disrespect their right to refuse.”
A military spokesman previously told Amanpour that this is common practice at American hospitals, but Caplan contends that is only on very sick people and it usually only happens once, not over and over again like it is in Guantanamo.
“Even in a hospital with a very, very ill bedbound patient, they often try to pull the tube out; they don't like it. It's not comfortable. So let's not kid ourselves,” Caplan said. “This is a tough, tough way to eat.”
Many argue that we don’t allow people to kill themselves, but Caplan described the circumstances as “political protest,” not a suicide attempt.
“It's a statement by prisoners, which goes all the way back to the Irish hunger strikers against the British, saying ‘I can't live in these conditions. I don't accept the terms of my sentence that I'm under here. This is inhumane to me. This is the only way I have to speak up.’”
Caplan has been forced-fed, so that he could experience the process firsthand.
He described it as a “rough” procedure and said it feels much worse for someone who’s not complying.
“You feel that sensation like you're drowning as the stuff is poured down your throat,” he said. “You can bring the food back up. If that happens, you're bound and gagged. Now you're starting to aspirate, as we say, take into the lungs. “
“I know there are [people] out there, thinking, ‘I don't care if they hurt these prisoners,” he said. “The point of principle is we don't want to see a principle established that the government can go around making you accept medical treatment that you don't want, even if you are a prisoner. It's a bright line."
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