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Volume 26 • Number 4

October 2012



Rethinking Force-Feeding: Legal and Ethical Aspects of Physician Participation in the Termina tion of Hunger Strikes in American Prisons

by Jacob M. Appel

When William B. Coleman, an inmate at Connecticut's MacDougall–Walker Correctional Institution in Connecticut, lost an appeal of his conviction for sexual assault and unlawful restraint in September 2007, he opted for one of the few means of protest available to incarcerated felons in the United States: he stopped eating. Coleman insisted that he was "innocent of the crimes of which he was convicted" and wanted "to raise awareness of what he perceive[d] to be the misuse and abuse of the criminal and family judicial system . . . in the context of divorce proceedings." Over the next four months, ingesting only liquids, the five-foot ten-inch prisoner's weight dropped from 250 lbs to 160 lbs. At that point, the state sought an injunction permitting prison staff to force-feed Coleman. Although two evaluations of Coleman by Suzanne Ducate, the board certified forensic psychiatrist who served as Director of Psychiatry for the state's Department of Corrections, revealed no cognitive and psychotic disorders or suicidality, and the state agreed that the inmate was indeed "competent" to make his own medical decisions, the Department of Corrections argued that both the need to prevent copycat hunger strikes and the duty to preserve Coleman's life, even against his wishes, justified sedating him and pumping nutrition into his stomach via a nasogastric tube.

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ISSN: 2152-0542