A court has ruled that prison officials may force feed inmates on hunger strikes to prevent their deaths or physical harm. From the AP story:

Connecticut prison inmates who go on hunger strikes can be restrained and force-fed to protect them from life-threatening dehydration and malnutrition, the state Supreme Court ruled Monday. The 7-0 decision came in the case of 51-year-old prisoner William Coleman, a Liverpool, England, native who stopped eating in September 2007 to protest his conviction on what he claimed was a fabricated rape charge by his ex-wife. The court rejected Coleman’s claims that force-feeding violated his free speech rights and international law. Coleman’s weight dropped from 237 pounds to 129 pounds by October 2008, and a prison doctor who believed Coleman was at risk of dying or developing irreversible health problems determined it was necessary to force-feed him by inserting a feeding tube through his nose and into his stomach.

Right on. Prisoners, by definition, do not have personal autonomy to the same extent as the those who are not in the Big House. Moreover, prison officials have to consider general good order and discipline within the institution.

There is no right to commit  suicide, and in prison, officials have a duty to stop it—whether it means preventing prisoners from hanging themselves or dehydrating themselves to death. And that is so even if it means forcing medical treatment that the prisoner doesn’t want, whether through forced feeding or CPR of a prisoner who has hanged himself and pinned a note to his shirt refusing resuscitation.  Otherwise, prison doctors and officials would become complicit in prisoners’ self destruction.  (Note: This isn’t the same thing as a prisoner refusing treatment when ill.)

Articles by Wesley J. Smith

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