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Force-feeding, which in some circumstances is also called gavage, is the practice of feeding a person or an animal against their will.

Force-feeding of humans

Force-feeding is generally carried out by passing a feeding tube through the nose or mouth into the esophagus. Internal feeding may also be carried out for medical reasons, rather than because the person refuses to eat, in which case it is not regarded as force-feeding.

Medical uses

Refusal to eat or consume liquids for an extended period of time may be caused by some psychiatric disorders. For example in schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders, an individual may refuse to eat because of a delusion that their food is being poisoned. Eating disorders are another common cause of refusal to eat. If an individual refuses to eat because of a mental disorder and if the refusal continues for a sufficient period of time that there is a risk of serious physical debilitation or death, a court order can be obtained to administer nutrition and hydration to prevent serious physical debilitation and death. Depending on the condition of the patient, nutrition may be administered via a feeding tube. Depending upon the patient's condition, either a nasogastric tube, which enters the stomach via the esophagus, or a PEG tube, which is inserted surgically into the stomach through the abdominal wall, may be used to provide nutrition. Fluids, containing electrolytes and glucose, can be quickly administered intravenously.

In prisons

On many occasions in the past prisoners have been force-fed by feeding tube when they went on hunger strike. It has been prohibited since 1975 by the Declaration of Tokyo of the World Medical Association, provided that the prisoner is "capable of forming an unimpaired and rational judgment."

In the United Kingdommarker, force-feeding was used against hunger-striking suffragettes, until the Cat and Mouse Act of 1913. Rubber tubes were inserted through the mouth (only occasionally through the nose) and into the stomach, and food poured down; the suffragettes were held down by force while the instruments invaded their bodies, an experience which has been likened to rape. In a smuggled letter, suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst described how the warders held her down and forced her mouth open with a steel gag. Her gums bled, and she vomited most of the liquid up afterwards.

Her mother, Emmeline Pankhurst, founder of the Women's Social and Political Union in the UKmarker, was horrified by the screams of women being force-fed in HM Prison Hollowaymarker during hunger strikes in which she participated. In her autobiography, she wrote: "Holloway became a place of horror and torment. Sickening scenes of violence took place almost every hour of the day, as the doctors went from cell to cell performing their hideous office. … I shall never while I live forget the suffering I experienced during the days when those cries were ringing in my ears." When prison officials tried to enter her cell, Pankhurst, in order to avoid being force-fed, raised a clay jug over her head and announced: "If any of you dares so much as to take one step inside this cell I shall defend myself."

Great Britain also used forcible feeding techniques against Irish Republicans during their struggle for independence. In 1917, Irish prisoner Tom Ashe died as a result of complications from such a feeding while incarcerated at Dublinmarker's Mountjoy Jail.

Under United Statesmarker jurisdiction, force-feeding is frequently used in the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Baymarker, prompting in March 2006 an open letter by 250 doctors from seven Western countries in the medical journal The Lancet, warning that, in their opinion, the participation of any doctor is contrary to the rules of the World Medical Association. Retired Major General Paul E. Vallely visited Guantanamo and reported on the process of force-feeding:

In December 6, 2006, the UN War Crimes Tribunalmarker at The Haguemarker approved the use of force-feeding of Serbianmarker politician Vojislav Šešelj. They decided it was not "torture, inhuman or degrading treatment if there is a medical necessity to do so...and if the manner in which the detainee is force-fed is not inhuman or degrading".

In 2008, a Connecticut prisoner, William B. Coleman, sued the state for the right to refuse forced tube feeding. As of 2009, that case, Coleman v. Lantz, is pending before Judge James Graham of the state's superior court.

In 2009, "Shoe bomber" Richard Reid was force fed while on a hunger strike in a Supermax prison in Florence, Coloradomarker.

Coercive and torturous use

Force-feeding by naso-gastric tube may be carried out in a manner that can be categorised as torture , as it may be extremely painful and result in severe bleeding and spreading of various diseases via the exchanged blood and mucus, especially when conducted with dirty equipment on a prison population. Large feeding pipes are traditionally used on hunger striking prisoners whereas thin pipes are preferred in hospitals.

A brief, first-person account of a force-feeding session given by Vladimir Bukovsky describes the procedure in detail: "The feeding pipe was thick, thicker than my nostril, and would not go in. Blood came gushing out of my nose and tears down my cheeks, but they kept pushing until the cartilages cracked. I guess I would have screamed if I could, but I could not with the pipe in my throat. I could breathe neither in nor out at first; I wheezed like a drowning man — my lungs felt ready to burst. The doctor also seemed ready to burst into tears, but she kept shoving the pipe farther and farther down. Only when it reached my stomach could I resume breathing, carefully. Then she poured some slop through a funnel into the pipe that would choke me if it came back up. They held me down for another half-hour so that the liquid was absorbed by my stomach and could not be vomited back, and then began to pull the pipe out bit by bit."

Force-feeding of pernicious substances may be used as a form of torture and/or physical punishment. While in prison in northern Bosnia in 1996, some Serbian prisoners have described being forced to eat paper and soap.

Sometimes it has been alleged that prisoners are forced to eat foods forbidden by their religion. The Washington Post has reported that Muslim prisoners in Abu Ghraib prisonmarker under the U.S.-led coalition described in sworn statements having been forced to eat pork and drink alcohol, both of which are strictly forbidden in Islam. [82301] Other prisoners described being forced to eat from toilets.

Gavage for girls before marriage

In the past, force-feeding has also been a practice in some Middle Eastern and North African countries where fatness was considered a marriage asset in women; culturally, voluptuous figures were perceived as indicators of wealth. In this tradition, some girls are forced by their mothers or grandmothers to overeat, often accompanied by physical punishment (e.g., pressing a finger between two pieces of wood). The intended result is a rapid onset of obesity, and the practice may start at a young age and continue for years. This is still the tradition in the rather undernourished Sahel country Mauritaniamarker (where it is called leblouh), where it induces major health risks in the female population; some younger men claim they no longer insist on voluptuous brides, but the time-honored beauty norm remains part of the culture.

Force-feeding of animals

In farming

Force-feeding is also known as gavage, from a French word meaning "to gorge". This term specifically refers to force-feeding of ducks or geese in order to fatten their livers in the production of foie gras.

Force-feeding of birds is practiced mostly on geese or male Moulard ducks, a Muscovy/Pekin hybrid. Preparation for gavage usually begins 4–5 months before slaughter. For geese, after an initial free-range period and treatment to assist in esophagus dilation (eating grass, for example), the force-feeding commences. Gavage is performed 2–4 times a day for 2–5 weeks, depending on the size of the fowl, using a funnel attached to a slim metal or plastic feeding tube inserted into the bird's throat to deposit the food into the bird's crop (the storage area in the esophagus). A grain mash, usually maize mixed with fats and vitamin supplements, is the feed of choice. Waterfowl are suited to the tube method due to a non-existent gag reflex and extremely flexible esophagi, unlike other fowl such as chickens. These migratory waterfowl are also said to be ideal for gavage because of their natural ability to gain large amounts of weight in short periods of time before cold seasons. For this reason, gavage is usually a "finishing" stage before the bird is set for slaughter, for if left to its own devices after finishing, the bird will quickly return to its normal weight. The result of this practice is a severely enlarged and fatty liver which results in the liver disease hepatic lipidosis. The liver may swell up to 12 times its normal size (up to three pounds). While the livers are the coveted portions of these birds, the fatty flesh of geese and ducks (traditionally used to make confit) as well as their feathers do also find a market.

Additionally, certain breeds of pig are force fed sand and metal in Taiwan as part of the annual Pig of God festival, in order to increase their weight. Force-fed pigs have reached weights of up to 900 kg.

In scientific research

Gavage is used in some scientific studies such as those involving the rate of metabolism. It is practiced upon various laboratory animals, such as mice. Liquids such as medicines may be administered to the animals via a tube or syringe.


See also


  1. WMA - Policy
  2. Purvis, June; Emmeline Pankhurst, London: Routledge, p 134, ISBN 0415239788
  3. Pugh, Martin; The Pankhursts, UK: Penguin Books, 2001, p 259, ISBN 0140290389
  4. Beyond Guantanamo: Torture Thrives in Connecticut November 17, 2009
  5. {{cite web| url={49DE2543-29F8-4F6F-8372-85DF58E38ADD} | title=A View from Inside Gitmo | date=May 5, 2006 | publisher=FrontPage Magazine | accessdate = 2007-09-16}}
  6. Appel, Jacob M. Beyond Guantanamo: Torture Thrives in Connecticut November 17, 2009
  7. BBC News: "UN concern at Guantanamo feeding."
  8. Boston Globe: "46 Guantanamo detainees join hunger strike."
  9. Daily Kos: "The WaPo prints a torture story."
  10. "Women rethink a big size that is beautiful but brutal" Clare Soares 11 July 2006. Christian Science Monitor
  11. "Gavage in Mauritania" [Subalternate Reality]
  13. An obesity-associated gut microbiome with increased capacity for energy harvest : Abstract : Nature

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