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Med Law. 2012 Dec;31(4):589-97.

When autonomy kills: the case of Sami Mbarka Ben Garci.

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LUISS University-Rome, Center for Ethics and Global Politics, Rome, Italy.


Foucault suggested that foreigners and criminals are treated in a particularly unfavourable way by the law. We find arguable support for that proposition in the case of Sami Mbarka Ben Garci. He was a Tunisian Muslim prisoner, charged with rape, held in an Italian prison. He went on a hunger strike, protesting his innocence. He was not force-fed, and was allowed to die. Hunger strikers are commonly force fed. We ask why he was not, and although the reasons in his case are not clear, we suggest that many prisoners perceived as being 'undesirable' (in the sense of being foreigners, or facing particularly serious allegations) are allowed to die (the rhetoric being that their autonomy is being respected), while other prisoners' autonomy would be violated in order to ensure survival. We explore the European and some domestic jurisprudence surrounding force-feeding, and conclude that the law is applied in a worryingly inconsistent way.

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