Medical Care Standards for Hunger strikers seriously breached

Project SafeCom Inc.
P.O. Box 364
Narrogin
Western Australia 6312
Phone: 0417 090 130
Web: http://www.safecom.org.au/

Medical Care Standards for Hunger strikers seriously breached

Media Release
Monday December 13 2004 11:00am WST
For Immediate Release
No Embargoes

"Refugee group Project SafeCom says that the Baxter detention centre operator GSL, is in serious breach of medical standards, especially in relation to the management of a hunger strike, not only, but also as laid down by the Declaration of Malta."

Under the declaration of Malta, wrote WA lawyer and Senior lecturer at Murdoch University Mary-Ann Kenny recently in the Medical Journal of Australia,

"if called upon to treat hunger strikers, medical practitioners should be aware of their ethical and legal responsibilities, and that they should act independently of government or institutional interests."

"At the background of the current hunger strike at the Baxter detention centre, if not leading to it, is the fact that Detention Centre Operator GSL suddenly changed the way medication is dispensed at the Baxter centre."

"A few weeks ago it suddenly announced that medication would no longer be handed out in the compounds, but that detainees had to board a bus to a central location within the Baxter detention centre - once a day - to collect the medication. Although GSL has now reverted to its "pre-bustrip" method of dispensing medication, two question remain:

"1) whether medication, which includes anti-depressants such as Zoloft, is handed out by medically qualified staff or just by GSL staff without the proper qualifications and training, and

"2) whether the apparent change to regularity of times at which medication is handed out has an effect on detainees: you cannot suddenly change times and or frequency of administering medication without expecting major side-effects on the part of clients."

"Reports received overnight indicate that GSL staff have, from 4pm yesterday afternoon (Sunday 12/12), expressly forbidden detainees who wanted to assist, from climbing on the roof to hand bottles of water to the three hunger strikers. This seems to indicate that GSL likes to promote and advance the death of the three hunger strikers who have been on the roof since last week."

Reports have also been received, that GSL staff have "banged on the roof with broom sticks or something" all night on Sunday 12 December to disturb the three hunger strikers on the roof. "If this is the current medical practice to keep hunger strikers from slipping into a coma, we wonder whether third-world standards of medical care would qualify for the Nobel Prize by comparison".

"It seems clear, that a company that protects its accountability under a veil of "commercial-in-confidence" is more interested in whatever its own agenda may be, than in putting the physical and psychological well-being of its clients first, in this case asylum seekers, and especially within this context, long-term detainees on a hunger strike, all of them showing advanced signs of Port Traumatic Stress Disorder."

"It's more than time for an immediate trip to the Baxter detention centre of a team of medically qualified investigators, in addition to an independent negotiator."

For more information:

Jack H Smit
[phone number posted]

ONLINE RESOURCES:

Medical and Ethical Aspects of Hunger Strikes in Custody and the Issue of Torture
http://www.icrc.org/Web/Eng/siteeng0.nsf/iwpList302/F18AA3CE47E5A98BC1256B66005D6E29

Legal and ethical implications of medically enforced feeding of detained asylum seekers on hunger strike

http://www.mja.com.au/public/issues/180_05_010304/ken10552_fm.html

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