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Nurse Ethics Comes to a Head at Guantanamo Bay

By Alexandra Wilson Pecci  
   November 25, 2014

A Navy nurse faces possible discharge for refusing to participate in force-feeding detainees. It's a test case for nurses in all practice settings who are faced with ethical issues every day.

Nurses have the right and an obligation to an ethical practice. With it should come the right to speak up without punishment when that ethical practice is threatened.

But possible punishment is exactly what's at stake for a U.S. Navy nurse who refused to continue force-feeding hunger-striking detainees at Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp. Although the Navy has opted not to press criminal charges, it is still considering requiring the nurse to show cause for remaining in the Navy, which could lead to his discharge, the end of an 18-year Naval career, and the possibility of no retirement or veteran's benefits.

Moreover, a discharge would send a "message from the Navy that nurses who refuse to participate in force-feeding could lose their careers," the nurse's attorney, Ron Meister, said during an media call last week led by the American Nurses Association.

The ANA has taken up the fight on behalf of the Navy nurse, who hasn't been publicly identified, arguing that he should be able to refuse to participate in force feedings without punishment.

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Alexandra Wilson Pecci is an editor for HealthLeaders.

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