Middle East Section
Invited - Oral Presentation Session
Political prisoners in Turkey frequently resort to hunger strike as a mode of protest. This radical protest form wears out bodies and often causes long or short term medical complications. Ultimately, doctors’ involvement as clinicians, caregivers and expert medical witnesses becomes inevitable. Doctors working in the human rights field foreground bioethical principles concerning how strikers should be treated, while recognizing prisoners’ decisions on their bodies. At the same time, doctors working in state institutions such as prisons, public hospitals, or official expert institutions might be asked to force-feed the strikers or prepare medico-legal reports that would support official discourse on strikes.
This paper examines how doctors, as first hand witnesses of hunger strikes in Turkey, respond to the often unintended political repercussions of their actions and the limitations of the ideals of medical neutrality. Doctors’ encounters with the emaciated body of the political prisoner not only blur the boundaries between politics, health and medicine but also re-make their political and professional identities.