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Aitchison, Essex, Self-harm in immigration detention- political, not (just) medical (1).pdf (360.11 kB)

Self-harm in immigration detention: political, not (just) medical

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journal contribution
posted on 2023-01-04, 09:26 authored by Guy AitchisonGuy Aitchison, Ryan Essex
Self-harm within immigration detention centres has been a widely documented phenomenon, occurring at far higher rates than the wider community. Evidence suggests that factors such as the conditions of detention and uncertainty about refugee status are among the most prominent precipitators of self-harm. While important in explaining self-harm, this is not the entire story. In this paper, we argue for a more overtly political interpretation of detainee self-harm as resistance and assess the ethical implications of this view, drawing on interviews with detainees from Australia’s offshore system. Self-harm by detainees is not only a medical ‘condition’ arising in response to oppression but a form of political action to lessen or contest it. We first establish how self-harm could be conceptualised as resistance. We then discuss its political purpose, noting it serves at least three functions: intrinsic, instrumental and disruptive or coercive. Viewing detainee self-harm as political resistance is a supplement to (rather than a substitute for) a medical approach. However, conceptualising self-harm this way has several advantages, namely, moving away from the idea that such behaviour is ‘maladaptive’, recognising detainees as political agents, combatting government claims of ‘manipulation’ and ‘blackmail’ and clarifying the duties of healthcare workers who work in detention.

Funding

BA/Leverhulme Small Grant -“Starving for Dignity: Re-framing the Ethics of Hunger Strikes”. J16998 and 21/18405

History

School

  • Social Sciences and Humanities

Department

  • International Relations, Politics and History

Published in

Journal of Medical Ethics

Publisher

BMJ

Version

  • AM (Accepted Manuscript)

Rights holder

© Author(s) (or their employer(s))

Publisher statement

This article has been accepted for publication in Journal of Medical Ethics, 2022 following peer review, and the Version of Record can be accessed online at https://doi.org/10.1136/jme-2022-108366.

Acceptance date

2022-12-11

Publication date

2022-12-29

Copyright date

2022

ISSN

0306-6800

eISSN

1473-4257

Language

  • en

Depositor

Dr Guy Aitchison. Deposit date: 3 January 2023

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