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Physicians Must Honor Refusal of Treatment to Restore Competency by Non-Dangerous Inmates on Death Row

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Physicians Must Honor Refusal of Treatment to Restore Competency by Non-Dangerous Inmates on Death Row

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The vignette described in the introduction of this symposium raises a number of ethical and legal problems for physicians who work for correctional institutions and death row inmates. They are not confined to correctional physicians, however, as states have requested aid from practicing physicians in the community, and even from other states, when conflicts have arisen in the treatment of death row inmates as they near the date of execution.1 As outlined, the case involves a 48-year-old man with a long history of schizophrenia, initially diagnosed at age 19. Compliant with medication, he remained generally free from positive symptoms-delusions and hallucinations. Nonetheless, he committed two murders during a robbery and was sentenced to death. Since his incarceration, the defendant has consistently refused psychotropic medications and has been forcibly medicated on several occasions when he exhibited violent outbursts and was overtly psychotic. As execution time approached, the court ruled that his rights to refuse medication were outweighed by the state’s interest in executing him and ordered the warden to medicate in order to maintain his competence. It appears that the inmate is not currently overtly psychotic, dangerous, or incompetent to be executed under a “Ford” Standard.2 The physician (Dr. Milsap) is presented with the order and is unsure if it is possible to proceed and remain faithful to both his legal and ethical obligations.

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Physicians Must Honor Refusal of Treatment to Restore Competency by Non-Dangerous Inmates on Death Row

Additional Information

Author Howard Zonana
Number 4
Volume 38
Publication JLME
Journal Year 2010
 

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