Martin Gottesfeld’s hunger strike on behalf of children abused in American institutions, and adults being prosecuted by U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz for political reasons has entered its fifth week. Gottesfeld reports losing 28 pounds so far. He has been in federal prison since his arrest in February, following a rescue at sea by Disney Cruises.
The government alleges that Gottesfeld coordinated a massive cyber attack against Boston Children’s Hospital, bringing down its online donation site and preventing hundreds of thousands of dollars of annual giving, in response to the hospital’s alleged abuse of patient Justina Pelletier. In 2016, Pelletier’s family sued the hospital for gross negligence, medical malpractice, and civil rights violations. No patients are alleged to have been harmed and no internal hospital systems are claimed to have been affected as a result of Gottesfeld’s alleged actions. Justina Pelletier remains in a wheelchair more than 2 years after returning home in 2014. In September, Gottesfeld broke his silence in a HuffPost exclusive, answering the charges by reiterating the allegations against the hospital and asserting that he acted to defend Pelletier from possible death.
He is now demanding a pledge from the presidential candidates to take action on America’s problems of institutionalized child abuse and for U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz, who oversaw the case against noted internet activist Aaron Swartz, to cease conducting political prosecutions. Ortiz’s pursuit of Swartz, for what is widely viewed as harmless civil disobedience, culminated in his suicide in 2013. His death is broadly mourned and 61,000 people digitally signed a petition demanding Ortiz be ousted as a federal prosecutor.
Gottesfeld is currently on day 32 of his hunger strike, and said “The suffering endured by many of these kids is far worse than a hunger strike,” over the phone from prison. “This abuse has gone unchecked for decades. The hunger strike will go on as long as it takes.”
According to lifesiences.com, here is what is happening to Gottesfeld’s body as he wages this fight. Assuming he was in good health at the beginning of his strike, there is little risk he’ll die for 6-8 weeks but that doesn’t mean he’s on easy street. By about the 3rd day, his body started scavenging muscle protein to make glucose, the most fundamental sugar molecule/carbohydrate of biology. His levels of electrolytes like potassium, used to conduct electrical signals in the brain as well as through nerves to muscles dropped to dangerous levels. Reserves of body fat started being tapped. Gottesfeld reported losing two pounds a day during this phase of his hunger strike.
Now in his fifth week, he reports his pulse is normal, but that could drop as reduced heart rate is possible after two weeks. Last week, unsurprisingly, Gottesfeld collapsed in court. Difficultly standing, sluggishness, weakness, trouble with coordination, or any combination thereof are all normal and can onset quickly without warning. Gottesfeld is also at risk of serious neurological problems; hunger strikers that make it this far can encounter cognitive impairment and vision loss.
Soon, he will have lost more than 18 percent of his body weight and be at risk of severe and permanent medical complications. After a month, he may suffer hearing loss and have difficulty swallowing water. Breathing may become labored and organ failure could start to set in.
Gottesfeld has stated that if necessary, he will continue his strike past election day and continue petitioning the president-elect and Boston’s U.S. Attorney’s office. After November 17, the 45 day mark, he would be at risk of dying from cardiovascular collapse and/or severe infection.
There are additional physiological risks as well. People who go so long without food often become aggressive. This can increase the odds of hunger strikers starving themselves to death.
Also, even if successful, ending his hunger strike may not be as simple as starting to eat again. Due to metabolic changes, he’d require medical monitoring to manage severe risks as he’s re-nourished.
Both the Clinton and Trump campaign declined to comment to the Associated Press.
The Boston U.S. Attorney office has issued a statement alluding to the possibility that it will seek to have Gottesfeld force-fed if he does not end his hunger strike voluntarily, "we would bring the matter to the attention of the court, which could issue an order if appropriate."
Such feeding against his will would present serious ethical issues for any attending physician.
Martin Gottesfeld contributed to this article from prison during his hunger strike. He is Dana Gottesfeld’s husband.