Hunger strikes and force-feeding

SAMS » Ethics » Medical care in the penal system » Hunger strikes and force-feeding

Medical care of a prisoner who is on hunger strike can divide the attending doctor’s loyalties.

In 2010, the Swiss Federal Supreme Court resolved that the prison authorities are obligated to order force-feeding of a prisoner on hunger strike if this is the only means of preventing irreversible damage to a prisoner’s health or their death. However, the doctors responsible for such a patient refused to force-feed him against his will. They based this decision on their professional ethics, in particular on the SAMS guidelines “Medical practice in respect of detained persons”.



The SAMS’s statement

A review of the existing «Medical practice in respect of detained persons» guidelines that have been in effect since 2002 showed that the paper, which was created based on international documents accepted worldwide, is still valid.

However, the ethical principles defined in the guidelines are not fully put into practice at this time. In this context, the SAMS Central Ethics Committee compiled the relevant principles for medical care of detained persons, and formulated recommendations for implementing them under the titel: «Governmental authority and medical ethos». The statement by the SAMS Central Ethics Committee (2012) is available in German:


Staatliche Autorität und Medizinisches Ethos (2012)