In early July, California state prisoners began a hunger strike to protest solitary confinement conditions at the state’s Pelican Bay correctional facility. Yesterday, U.S. District Court Judge Thelton E. Henderson ruled that prison doctors may force-feed some hunger striking prisoners to prevent them from dying despite previously signed “do not resuscitate” orders.

Of the 30,000 inmates who began the hunger strike on July 8, only about 130 inmates remain, according to the Associated Press. Of those 130, about 70 inmates’ health is of concern to prison officials, who say that if they continue the hunger strike without any nourishment, they may die. Joyce Hayhoe, a spokeswoman for the federal receiver in charge of medical care in the prisons, said that while prisoners to have a right to refuse medical treatment, doctors also have a duty to treat them.

"Patients have a right to refuse medical treatment. They also have a right to refuse food,” said Hayhoe. “[But] if an inmate gets to the point where he can't tell us what his wishes are, for instance if he's found unresponsive in his cell, and we don't have a DNR (“do not resuscitate” order), we're going to get nourishment into him. That's what doctors do. They're going to follow their medical ethics.”

Previously, California state policy prohibited force-feeding inmates on a hunger strike if they had a “do not resuscitate” order. Officials petitioned the court, asking to ignore those orders for those who signed the orders during or immediately before the hunger strike.

"It's better to err on the side of life," said Hayhoe.

The new judge-approved force-feeding will be called “refeeding.” The process could include anything from intravenous fluids to feeding tubes through inmates’ noses and into their stomachs.

Human rights activists say that force-feeding is a violation of international law because it involves forcing people to do something without their consent. Force-feeding has long been a source of debate, especially in the United States. In April, the method came into question after hunger-striking detainees at Guantanamo Bay were force-fed without their consent. Dr. Jeremy Lazarous, president of the American Medical Association, requested that medical personnel at Guantanamo Bay “address any situation in which a physician may be asked to violate the ethical standards of his or her profession.”

But, much like in California, officials defended their decision saying that they were force-feeding to ensure detainees’ survival, not violate their rights.

"I can tell you that we will not allow detainees to harm themselves, and this includes attempts at suicide — including self-induced and peer-pressured starvation to death," Pentagon spokesman Army Lt. Colonel Todd Breasseale said.

As for California’s hunger strike, it began with a group of prisoners who said that the conditions in California’s solitary confinement units (also known as SHUs) were damaging to prisoners’ physical and mental health. Earlier this year, a federal judge refused to dismiss a lawsuit filed by 10 Pelican Bay inmates who were held in isolation for 10 years or longer. The inmates said that the conditions in the SHUs constituted cruel and unusual punishment, violating their constitutional rights. That case may be turned into a class action.

In the video below, Yasiin Bey (also known as Mos Def) tries the force-feeding procedure used at Guantanamo Bay and proposed for use in California prisons.