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Abstract

The United States allows force-feeding of prisoners, regardless of their state of mind or mental health because they deem preservation of life as paramount. In the United Kingdom, a prisoner who is of a sound mind “can be allowed to starve himself to death.”1 This difference is due to the balance between the importance of preservation of life and of the right to self-determination and autonomy in medical decisions. My note will first briefly explore the history of force-feeding prisoners who are protesting for political purposes in both countries, and the relevant cases and statues that led up to the differing viewpoints on force-feeding. I will then look into and compare the specific cases of force-feeding in the recent Guantanamo Bay hunger strike and the 1981 hunger strike in Northern Ireland where ten prisoners were allowed to starve to death. Finally, I will explore what is the more ethical answer to the question of force-feeding – whether it is better to let a prisoner of sound mind choose to die or to preserve their life through force?

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