What would you do if you were a nurse and your patient refused to eat? What if you were ordered by your boss to force feed a patient, even though the patient was fully aware that not eating could lead to serious health complications, even death? What if your refusal risked ending your career? Would you respect the patient’s wishes or follow orders?
These questions and many more are being raised after a Navy nurse refused to force feed a detainee at Guantanamo Bay. The Navy lieutenant nurse became reluctant to force feed patients after months of administering nasogastric feedings to people that didn’t want to be fed. The detainees were shackled to a restraint chair and held still, despite their complaints, according to a September 15 report published in the Miami Herald.
The military decided not to court martial the navy lieutenant nurse, but there will be a formal review. Navy Capt. Maureen Pennington stated that the recommendation was for the nurse to “show cause for retention in the Navy.” Pennington is the commanding officer of the Naval Health Clinic New England, managing over 100 nurses in the region, including the nurse who refused to take part in the force feeding of detainees.
Staff has increased at Guantanamo since the prison’s hunger strike began over a year ago, and according to the Herald report, the Navy will not disclose information regarding how they manage such a strike due to fear of a public backlash.
Pennington stated the nurse will have the opportunity to get a lawyer and present the case of why Navy retention is justified.
A key question is if the nurse can refuse force-feeding a detainee when it is the military’s policy to force feed detainees. Similarly, military doctors have been allowed to decline to conduct abortions for personal reasons, and retired Army Brig. Gen. Stephen Xenakis, a psychiatrist, stated that private conversations with the Pentagon’s medical leadership has led to the assurance that medical professionals would not lose their positions for refusing to force feed detainees.
Xenaxis has called the Guantanamo forced feedings “cruel and degrading” and a violation of medical ethics.
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