Update: 22.10.2014

Hunger strike in the penal system: some cantons change their policy

How should the justice system deal with prisoners who want to win their freedom by means of a hunger strike? Some years ago, the Bernard Rappaz case illustrated the dilemma connected to this question: If the state enforces its duty of care, then this violates the prisoner’s right to self-determination. If it does not take any measures, a previously healthy person dies in its custody. This in turn violates the state’s responsibilities with respect to the right to life.

The Canton of Valais opted for force-feeding in the Rappaz case in 2010. The death of a prison inmate in the Canton of Zug shows that in some cantons policies in this regard are changing.

Death as consequence of hunger strike

It was made public on 17 April 2013 that a 32 year-old prisoner died in the Zug Cantonal Hospital after having refused food intake since the end of January in order to achieve release from prison. He had previously and in full possession of his mental capacities signed a disposition informing him about the possible effects of the hunger strike in which he decreed that he refused under any circumstances to be force-fed.

The Canton of Zug acted within cantonal law

In its 19 April 2013 issue, the NZZ newspaper wrote that «more and more cantons refrain from force-feeding». According to inquiries by the NZZ several cantons are in the process of changing their regulations in their respective law enforcement acts. The cantons of Zug, St. Gallen and Solothurn are reported to have finished their revisions and amendments are under way in the cantons of Appenzell Outer-Rhodes and Lucerne.

The consultation materials from the Canton of Lucerne for example allow an insight into the wording of regulations of cantons which plan to allow inmates on a hunger strike to die. The revised cantonal law enforcement act of Lucerne calls for a disposition explaining the possible implications of a hunger strike. Prisoners can tick whether they refuse artificial feeding, medication or resuscitation.

Further information

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