December 7, 2023

The Editor speaks: Hunger strikes

With so many millions of people starving (according to United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization in 2016 815 million people of the 7.6 billion people in the world), why do persons go on hunger strikes?

Well, Ghandi did it, suffragettes in the UK did it, Republican prisoners in Northern Ireland did it and here, just recently, seven Cuban men and one woman, who were protesting how government is handling their asylum applications, did it. This hunger strike has now finished.

The main reason people go on hunger strikes is when they are in prison and can get media attention. Being in prison there’s really no other means of protest. And in prison the government is clearly responsible for your life/death and so can be blamed if you did. Now that really gets publicity! If you are willing to die for a cause it nearly always means you are being unjustly treated.

I don’t believe for one moment any of the prisoners in our Detention centre were being treated so badly any of the people there would be willing to die for. However, according to a recent Compass report , “two Cubans were hospitalised during the strike, with the woman experiencing cardiac complications that required medical attention”.

These protesters have complained they have not been given a fair asylum hearing. They have not had access to the communication channels they are entitled to, and they do NOT want to go back to Cuba!

Whether going on hunger strike has helped their cause remains to be seen.

Last year, Tom Deignan writing in American Magazine, asked the question, “How should we react to a hunger strike—especially once the striker begins to suffer? And, theologically speaking, is a hunger strike akin to a suicidal—and, thus, sinful—act?”

There are many websites that claim (see “to commit suicide through a hunger strike is a mortal sin that leads to eternal damnation.”

I confess, as a Christian, I had not thought of that.

I tend to lean on what Jeremy Cruz, a theology professor at St. John’s University in New York, says, “Those who make the argument that [hunger strikes] are sinful rely on the idea that suicide is an ‘intrinsic evil.’” But, he adds, the circumstances that drive a person to make a hunger strike must also be taken into account, and systemic abuse and inequality can too easily be forgotten in debates over the morality of fasting.

“The real ethical question we need to ask,” Mr. Cruz says, “is, how do we advance social justice so that people don’t feel compelled to starve themselves?”


Hunger strikes are not new. In pre-Christian Ireland, going on hunger strike was part of the legal system. If a man felt wronged by you and starved himself to death on your doorstep, you had to bear the burden of his debts.

How does that idea “strike” you? Pun intended.

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