The American Nurses Association (ANA) has stepped in to petition the Department of Defense for leniency on the part of a nurse who refused to force-feed Guantánamo Bay prisoners during a hunger strike.
The case came to light over the summer after the lawyer of a prisoner learned that a Navy Medical Officer declared he could no longer force-feed prisoners. The prison confirmed this information to the Miami Herald. The officer has served in the Navy for nearly 18 years, and has not been publicly identified.
The ANA—the largest nursing organization in the U.S.—cites professional ethical guidelines that support the officer’s refusal to force-feed prisoners through a tube. The World Medical Association and the American Medical Association have previously condemned force-feeding by medical professionals for competent patients who refuse.
The ANA expressed its support of the Navy officer in a letter to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and the director of the Navy Nurse Corps last month. That letter was obtained by the Miami Herald.
“These actions are resulting from the nurse’s expressing an ethical objection to participating in the force-feeding of detainees who are engaging in a form of protest at Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp,” said the letter.
The officer has since been relocated back to his base in New England. The ANA letter asks that the Navy allow the officer “to continue to serve his country without punitive effects,” citing that the nurse acted within the ANA code of ethics.
Actions against the officer could include an honorable discharge, which would entitle him to veteran benefits, or a dishonorable discharge, which would deny him those benefits. In either case he would lose his pension because he has not served for 20 years, which is when military pensions vest.
The officer’s attorney, Ronald Meister, is trying to help the nurse stay in service until he reaches that 20-year mark.
“I think he has acted in the highest traditions of the nursing profession,” Meister told the Miami Herald. “How can you condemn a nurse who takes into consideration everything he’s been taught about patient welfare and obtaining consent and making individualized decisions and acting on everything he’s been taught?”
This is obviously a charged issue, but was the nurse within his rights to refuse to force-feed the patient? Let us know what you think in the comments below.