Hunger strikes and force-feeding

SAMS » Ethics » Topics A–Z » Prison medicine » Hunger strikes and force-feeding

Physicians providing medical care for a prisoner on hunger strike may find themselves subject to conflicting loyalties. The SAMS publications presented below provide guidance for these exceptional, ethically challenging situations.

In 2010, the issue of hunger strikes became the focus of intense public debate, following a ruling by the Federal Supreme Court that prison authorities are required to order force-feeding if this is the only means of preventing irreversible harm or death in a prisoner on hunger strike. However, the physicians responsible refused to carry out force-feeding in this case, invoking professional ethics and, in particular, the SAMS guidelines on «Medical practice in respect of detained persons» (2002).



The SAMS’s statement

A review of the guidelines on «Medical practice in respect of detained persons» – which have been in force since 2002 and were prepared on the basis of globally accepted standards – confirmed that they remain valid. To promote the application in practice of the ethical principles defined therein, the SAMS Central Ethics Committee (CEC) issued an Opinion in 2012, summarising the principles relevant for prison medicine and formulating recommendations for their implementation.


Guidelines: Medical practice in respect of detained persons (2002)


Staatliche Autorität und Medizinisches Ethos  (State authority and medical ethics)
Opinion (in German) of the SAMS Central Ethics Committee (2012).





lic. theol., dipl. biol. Sibylle Ackermann
Head Department Ethics
Tel. +41 31 306 92 73