Voluntary total fasting: a challenge for the medical community

Lancet. 1984 Jun 30;1(8392):1451-2. doi: 10.1016/s0140-6736(84)91941-x.


A movement opposing the nuclear arms race asked for medical surveillance of four people intending to go without food for an unlimited period. The course of fasting was uneventful until day 28-35, when weight loss reached 18%. In one subject fasting was ended on day 38 owing to development of Wernicke's encephalopathy; the others agreed to suspend their fast by day 40. The presence of physicians, offered under defined conditions, may have contributed to the timely cessation of this protest.

KIE: Medical attendance on fasting members of a French anti-nuclear group, part of the international Fast for Life movement, is described. Four physicians agreed to authenticate the fast, release health bulletins, provide medical surveillance, advise on lifestyle and hygiene, and warn of impending permanent damage. Conditions set by the doctors for their involvement included arrangements for proxy decision making, awareness of risks on the part of the fasters, daily medical examinations, and withdrawal of surveillance if medical decisions were not implemented. The circumstances and course of the 40-day fast are related, and the role of the physicians in this episode is discussed.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Body Weight
  • Civil Disorders
  • Dissent and Disputes*
  • Eating
  • Ethics, Medical*
  • Fasting / psychology
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Group Processes*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Starvation / metabolism
  • Starvation / physiopathology*
  • Starvation / psychology
  • Time Factors
  • Value of Life