I think that prisoners should have a less robust right to refuse medical treatment than the rest of us because they, by definition, have lost their right to personal autonomy. This isn’t to say it shouldn’t exist, but it is to say that prison officials should have a limited ability to overrule the prisoner’s refusal, say when the prisoner’s decision affects good order or is intended to cause self harm. Thus, I believe prisoners on hunger strikes should be able to be force fed if their health begins to deteriorate.
Mentally ill prisoners should have even less say in this regard, particularly with regard to refusing anti psychotic medications. Jared Lee Loughner, the Tuscon shooter illustrates why–and good for the Court for permitting officials to forcefully medicate him. From the AP story:
The man accused in the Arizona shooting rampage that critically injured Rep. Gabrielle Giffords kept himself awake for 50 hours after an appeals court halted forced medication. He walked in circles until he developed sores then declined antibiotics to treat an infected foot. Already thin, he stopped eating and shed 9 pounds. U.S. District Judge Larry Burns described Jared Lee Loughner’s behavior to explain his refusal to overrule prison doctors who decided to resume forced medication July 18. The drugging, he said, “seems entirely appropriate and reasonable to me.”
No kidding. Besides, the probable legal tactic here is to keep Loughner from being treated effectively so he won’t become competent to stand trial for murder.
The right to refuse treatment is important. But just as most prisoners and the forced hospitalized mentally ill lose their right to vote, so too should their right to determine the course of their own care be subject, at least in limited circumstances, to being vetoed by appropriate prison or hospital officials, subject, as here, to legal review.