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Case in point | The power of autonomy

America may force-feed hunger-striking Guantánamo prisoners, but courts in England and Wales place a greater emphasis on self-determination. Richard Easton reports

17 May 2013

Under the ancient Brehon law of troscad, Ireland's poor were able to achieve justice when wronged by their betters by fasting at the malfeasor's gates. Even a chieftan faced with a peasant engaged in a troscad was compelled to hear the underling's complaint or face liability for his starvation. Troscad provided the early Irish with a legal remedy against the powerful, a remedy similar to that employed by the 1981 H-Block hunger-strikers and now by the force-fed detainees of Guantánamo. But is force-feeding a sane hunger-striking prisoner lawful? And if approved of in America, would English courts too favour the nasogastric tube ?over autonomy?

The legal limbo of Guantánamo has culminated in a 100-strong hunger-strike and the force-feeding of 21 inmates. The US response to the Gitmo 100 has been condemned this month by the UN. Cramming nutritional sludge down resisting gullets certainly sounds torturous. Yet force-feeding in Guantánamo was hel...

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