The American Nurses Association expressed support Nov. 19 for a U.S. Navy nurse who faces possible punishment for refusing to carry out orders to force-feed detainees at Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp in Cuba over the summer. ANA president Pamela Cipriano, PhD, RN, NEA-BC, FAAN, hosted a conference call Nov. 20 featuring panelists including Physicians for Human Rights Senior Medical Adviser Vincent Iacopino, MD, PhD; U.S. Naval War College professor Capt. Albert Shimkus, former commanding officer, U.S. Naval Hospital, Guantanamo Bay; and attorney Ron Meister of Cowan, Liebowitz & Latman, P.C., the Navy nurses attorney, to urge support for the nurse and discuss details of the case. The nurse has not been publicly identified.
On July 15, the Miami Herald reported that a Navy medical officer recently refused to continue managing tube-feedings of prison hunger strikers and was reassigned to alternative duties. Tube feedings are carried out while the detainees are in restraints.
According to Meister, the Navy initially drafted criminal charges against the nurse for disobedience of orders, but has since decided not to move forward with the criminal case. Instead, according to Meister, Navy officials are considering discharging the nurse from the Navy, which could mean the loss of benefits and even the end of the RNs career. Meister said such a result could send a message from the Navy that nurses who refuse to participate in force-feeding could lose their careers.
The matter, he said, is now in the hands of the chief of naval personnel. We hope to convince the Navy that the nurse should not lose an entire military career as a result of a decision that we think is consistent with the highest standard of the nursing profession, Meister said.
According to a news release, the ANA Code of Ethics for Nurses supports the ethical right of a professional nurse to make an independent judgment about whether he or she should participate in this or any other such activity. The ANA declared their support of the nurses actions in letters to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and Rear Admiral Rebecca J. McCormick-Boyle, director of the U.S. Navy Nurse Corps.
In an Aug. 20 letter to McCormick-Boyle, Cipriano wrote, The ANA is adamant that the rights of registered nurses to conscientiously object to participating in the force-feeding of detainees be absolutely protected and exercised without retaliation.
Cipriano reiterated her statements in an Oct. 17 letter to Hagel. In the letter, Cipriano also voiced the ANAs concerns about the possible discharge of the RN from the Navy Nurse Corps and urged the Department of Defense and the Navy to consider its actions against this nurse and work toward a solution that allows him to continue to serve his country.
In the statement, Cipriano said, The military setting does not change the nurses ethical commitments or standards.
During the conference call, Iacopino said healthcare workers should not be forced to participate in force-feeding. We commend the Navy nurse for doing what any clinician should do under these circumstances refuse to take part in the abuse of our patients, he said. We join the ANA and other nursing organizations in supporting the nurse and urging the government to allow him to continue serving his country without reprisal.
According to a news release, the ANAs position on the case is focused on:
Supporting the military nurses who have to make very difficult decisions related to either moving forward with or questioning the plan of care.
Urging the military leadership to recognize the ethical code of conduct to which professional registered nurses are accountable.
Advocating for the establishment of a process within the uniformed services that allows for a thorough review of the type of situation and is receptive to concerns raised by the registered nurse who is compelled to question the plan of care.
The ANA has been actively monitoring the force-feeding of detainees at Guantanamo Bay for more than two years, and we support the registered nurses in the military who have to make very difficult decisions related to either moving forward with or questioning any activity within a plan of care, Cipriano said in a statement. We urge military leaders and health providers to uphold the ethical code of conduct to which all professional registered nurses are accountable and to be receptive to concerns raised by nurses or any other healthcare professional who is compelled, by an ethical commitment, to question any activity within the plan of care. We do not believe this nurse should have to show cause for remaining in the Navy.
For more information on this case and the ANA Code of Ethics visit, http://www.nursingworld.org/MainMenuCategories/EthicsStandards/Resources/Force-feeding-of-Detainees-at-Guantanamo-Bay.html