In U.S. immigration detention centers, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) employs force feeding to mitigate and manage nonviolent protests in the form of extended hunger strikes. ICE relies on physicians to oversee this involuntary medical tactic, which has been condemned internationally by medical ethics and human rights treaties (see below). In El Paso, Texas, a family medicine physician named Dr. Michelle Iglesias has accommodated ICE by force-feeding detained individuals for the second time in less than a year.
According to Texas Monthly, Dr. Iglesias testified in court that her patients have decisional capacity to decline eating. She acknowledged that the AMA opposes force-feeding, which it says “violates core ethical values of the medical profession.” Nevertheless, she is repeatedly complicit with ICE’s requests to pursue and implement court orders to physically restrain her patients and insert nasogastric tubes without consent.
The United Nations has argued that ICE’s and Dr. Iglesias’s force-feeding tactics may violate the U.N. Convention Against Torture. Dr. Parveen Parmar, chief of the division of global emergency medicine at the University of Southern California, reviewed the medical records of the current force-feeding cases. She reported that those being force-fed by Dr. Iglesias are receiving “the worst medical care I have seen in my ten years of practice.” Dr. Iglesias’s participation in force-feeding is antithetical to the values of family medicine in Texas and nationally. With your support, we can make Dr. Iglesias’s practice the last of its kind.
We are calling on the following medical organizations into action to protect patients in immigration detention centers from force-feeding by Dr. Iglesias and other health care providers. We are demanding the following:
- The Texas Medical Board to immediately conduct a thorough review of Dr. Iglesias’s medical practices and suspend her medical license while under review.
- The Texas Academy of Family Physicians to conduct a formal review of the ethical behaviors of its members who work in immigration detention centers.
- The American Academy of Family Physicians to issue a policy that condemns the practice of force-feeding people on hunger strike.
The following medical associations denounce force feeding of hunger strikers in detention as cruel and inhuman treatment:
- World Medical Association (WMA) 1975 Declaration of Tokyo
- WMA 1991 Declaration of Malta, revised 1992, 2006, and 2017
- World Health Organization 2007 Health in Prisons Guide
- International Society of the Red Cross’s 2013 Position on Hunger Strikes in Prison
- American Medical Association’s (AMA) Joint Letter to Chuck Hagel on the force-feeding of hunger-striking prisoners at Guantánamo Bay