An Iranian asylum seeker on the 49th day of a hunger strike has told refugee advocates he has no choice but to continue starving himself, even if it means dying.
The 33-year-old man, who is being held in the Wickham Point Immigration Detention Centre near Darwin, refused to eat after being denied refugee status.
Ben Pynt, from the Darwin Asylum Seeker Support and Advocacy Network, described the man as being weak, emaciated and a shadow of his former self.
"He's shaking, he's pale, his eyes are bloodshot and he's finding it more and more difficult to walk," he said.
"He's sore, aches all over, aches in muscles joints and bones... and he's feeling very defeated by what's going on."
Mr Pynt said the asylum seeker has been repeatedly told by Immigration officials that he must either return to Iran voluntarily or stay in indefinite detention in Darwin.
"He feels he can't return home and this is his only way out," he said.
"I've seen a number of people who were contemplating suicide in detention over the six years I've been working with refugees and asylum seekers. I've never seen somebody in this condition before, with this resolve."
Debate over force feeding against asylum seeker's consent
There has been legal and medical debate about whether the Department of Immigration and Border Protection can force feed the asylum seeker against his will.
Human rights lawyer Steven Blanks said there was legislation in place that would allow authorities to save the man's life.
"It authorises the Department of Immigration to direct doctors to provide medical treatment against the consent of asylum seekers where that medical treatment is necessary to preserve their life or health," he said.
The Iranian man has given written instruction that he must not be revived if he loses consciousness.
But Mr Blanks said international standards specify medical treatment should be used, even if an asylum seeker had refused it.
Mr Blanks, who used to work for the NSW Council for Civil Liberties, said the rule was used in two similar situations in 2011 and 2012, under the previous Labor government.
"This government would appear to have different policy of not giving that direction and that is of significant concern," he said.
But the Northern Territory's Supreme Court would be required to make a directive to doctors to force feed the man, Mr Blanks said.
The President of the Australian Medical Association, Robert Parker, said this would be unlikely, given the court would be closed over Christmas.
"The timetable of the Supreme Court doesn't fit within 24-hour medicine," he said.
Dr Parker said doctors would abide by legal directives from the court or Department of Immigration, unless the asylum seeker had his own legal document in place.
"If this gentleman has an advanced directive in place I think that's going to have significant precedence over any wishes of the Immigration Department, because they're not going to be tested in court until the new year," he said.
Minister, Immigration staff could be liable
The Immigration Minister Scott Morrison has not said if he would use the powers.
"There is potential for the Minister to be held liable if he has directed the Department not to exercise its powers under the regulations," Mr Blanks said.
The Department's staff could also be held liable and could potentially face an international tribunal if they were not held liable in an international tribunal if they were not brought to justice in an Australian court, Mr Blanks said.
The asylum seeker's lawyer John Lawrence maintained his client is still at this stage of sane mind to make his own decisions.