Is Force Feeding Unethical?

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A.Should the medical profession force feed people with anorexia as part of treatment? One of the contributing factors to developing anorexia is an individual’s need to control his or her environment. In my opinion, force feeding a patient who suffers from this serious disorder, would be unethical as well as a violation of the patient’s constitutional rights. The libertarian philosophy of freedom is based on the premise that self-ownership is a basic right and that initiating violence against others is a fundamental wrong. What is self-ownership if not the right to choose what, or how much, to ingest? What is initiating violence against another if not forcibly incarcerating him for ingesting too much or too little of a particular substance? When a patient says “no” to recommended medical technology and treatment, he brings into struggle a confusing array of rights, emotion and obligations. For the patient it is about self-determination and their ability to participate in their own care. The family is often torn between respect for the patient’s right to self-determination or religious ideology and of course the natural desire for their loved one to survive, while the state claims an interest in the value of life and a duty to protect the interest of dependents. Herbert and Weingarten indicate “the standard approach to such dilemmas usually refers to the principles of ethical analysis: patient autonomy (following a competent patient’s wishes), medical beneficence (helping the patient) and justice or fairness (considering the interests of all involved). (P C Hébert and M A Weingarten The ethics of forced feeding in anorexia nervosa. CMAJ. 1991 January 15; 144(2): 142). Physicians or hospitals are at risk of legal action if their skills are brought into question. Medical ethics committees share in the decision making process as well. However to what end? According to Herbert and Weingarten “forced feeding in anorexia nervosa is usually appropriate if patients...
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