182 MEDICAL JURISPRUDENCE
for the presence of sugar, nor had the oesophagus and suprarenal glands been
examined. These criticisms led the Home Secretary to reopen the case. A
free pardon was granted to Alice Rhodes and the sentence passed on the
three Stauntons was commuted to penal servitude for life. Dr. Halliday
Sutherland3 reviewed this case before the Medico-Legal Society, London,
at their meeting held on the 15th February 1921, and proved from the medical
evidence given during the trial that death was due to starvation.
2. Whether the Starvation was Suicidal, Homicidal or Accidental.—
Suicidal starvation is rare, though it may be seen among lunatics or prisoners,
who may go on " hunger strike ". In this connection it must be remembered
that the forcible feeding of prisoners, when they refuse to take any food on
account of passive resistance, is not an assault but is quite lawful.
In India, sometimes, young hysterical women imagine that they are
possessed by deities, and say that they can live without food for a prolonged
period, or they do so to practise deception on their friends and relatives.
When people watch them, the fraud is exposed, but in some cases they
actually abstain from food, and prefer to die rather than that their impos-
ture should be detected. Persons watching them must be very careful, as
they are criminally responsible for abetting suicide, if death results from
this .enforced fasting.
Bai Prembai, a Hindu woman of Bombay, who professed to live without food and
to pass neither -urine nor fseces, undertook to allow a watch to be kept upon her move-
ments. A committee of medical men and one lady doctor undertook this duty and
selected eight nurses to conduct the watch. After four days' watching a packet of food
was found to have been concealed upon her person and she was exposed.—Barry, Legal
Med., Vol. H, p. 244.
Homicidal starvation is met with in the case of old, helpless, or feeble-
minded persons and children or infants. Illegitimate infants are sometimes
done to death by depriving them of proper food, and at the same time expos-
ing them to cold. Rarely, mothers-in-law in the lower classes in India starve
their little daughters-in-law to death. Two such cases came to my notice at
Agra. Both were sisters and were married in the same house. They were
seven and eleven years old respectively, were burnt at several places and
were not given sufficient food, until they died from inanition. The Bombay
Children Act, 1948 (Bombay Act No. LXXI of 1948), provides that whoever
having the actual charge of, or control over, a child wilfully assaults, ill-
treats, neglects, abandons, or exposes him or causes or procures him to be
assaulted, ill-treated, neglected, abandoned or exposed or negligently fails
to provide adequate food, clothes or medical aid or lodging for a child in a
manner likely to cause such child unnecessary mental and physical suffering
shall, on conviction, be punished with imprisonment of either description
for a term not exceeding two years or with fine which may extend to one
thousand rupees or with both. The infliction of reasonable punishments on
a child for proper reason, presumably by way of a corrective shall not be
deemed to be an offence (vide section 48). For purposes of this Act a
" child " means a boy or girl who has not attained the age of sixteen years.
Accidental starvation may occur during famines, among shipwrecked
seamen and persons entombed in mines, pits by falls of rock or wreckage
by a bomb attack. It may also occur from obstruction to the passage of
food into the stomach from disease, such as ankylosis of the jaws, stricture
or cancer of the oesophagus or stomach, etc.
Children and old persons having little reserve of thermotaxic power
are very susceptible to the bad effects of cold. Individuals, whose vitality
3. The Transactions of the Medico-Legal Society, Vol. XV, p. 54.