Abstract

Historians have castigated the British medical profession for endorsing forcible feeding during the suffragette hunger strike campaigns of 1909 to 1914. This article reconsiders the importance of medical opposition to forcible feeding by closely analysing its agendas and, importantly, by positing that the medico-ethical debates sparked in that period set the stage for ethical discourses that have recurrently resurfaced ever since. Although leading contemporary medical institutions and figures did indeed turn a blind eye to forcible feeding, the nature of medical opposition where it did arise, and the complex medico-ethical dilemmas posed by the procedure, demand fuller investigation, not least because they illuminate concerns still raised today. More specifically, I explore historical disagreement on forcible feeding as a therapeutic or coercive technique, the complex positioning of the prison doctor who performed the procedure and contestation over the extent to which the state ought to intervene in prison medicine.

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