Wednesday, August 21, 2013
of life, ethics and the judge
i just read in the newspaper that a California judge has given a court order permitting prison authorities to force feed many of the inmates at a prison who are on hunger strike for the seventh week now and are facing a health risk. the back story is that many of the violent gang leaders of white supremacist groups and black and latino enemy gangs have encouraged this strike to protest their being kept in solitary confinement. they are apparently so powerful even in these solitary confinements that the other inmates who are not in solitary confinement have gone on this hunger strike to the point of being near death. i will keep this simple, follow me. when an inmate wants to go on hunger strike, the prison authorities will ask them to confirm if they wish to be resuscitated when absolutely necessary to do so for health reasons. usually, many of them would say yes, because nobody who is not on death row really wants to die...and goodness knows that a 40 year jail term may end someday. however, in this case, almost all the prisoners signed the "DO NOT RESUSCITATE" form which meant that the authorities should watch them die even if it came to that. so whats the issue? the issue is that the prison authorities know that many of these young inmates who are in prison for non-violent or non-gang related offences have been coerced into joining a prison gang in order to stay safe/alive and by implication, are compelled to join in this hunger strike in order not to be seen as a sell-out: a dangerous thing in prison. to enable these prisoners not kill themselves, and yet not be killed for disobeying their capone's orders, the prison authorities had to intervene. they ran to court asking that they should be given power to "force feed" the hunger striking inmates. interesting. trust me, force feeding isn't pretty. it means giving food or nutrition to someone even where such a person resists it physically. it could involve medical aid and forceful restraint of the person while the nutrition is being given to save his life. if you've seen where mothers hold down a screaming child and pour food down its throat, then you get the point. nasty. the legal question for the judge was simple. the constitution guarantees certain fundamental rights including rights to personal liberty and the decision to make choices that affect your person free of interference. however, the criminal code (especially in nigeria) classifies "attempted suicide" as a crime punishable by the state. in advanced countries like america, where the state breaches your fundamental human rights in any way, it has to compensate such an individual. this can be a significant amount. On the other hand, leaving them to starve to death would amount to the state standing by and permitting the criminal act of attempted suicide (armed with proof that many of these inmates were not voluntarily embarking on this hunger strike). the challenge is that many of these inmates signed the "do not resuscitate" form and this court order instantly violates the rights of a fully functional, free thinking citizen of the united states to make choices in full consciousness regarding his life and wellbeing. you may argue that when they enter prison, they become state property and those rights are limited but there is strong counter argument to that view. to cut the long story short, the judge made the order that they be force-fed. it will save many lives, but it will open the state to a deluge of litigation claiming a breach of their constitutional rights and international law as this is a unilateral action by the state without the individual's consent. Also, many people feel that as these prisoners are unwanted societal elements, aren't we all safer/happier that they decide to kill themselves and take on a greater punishment than handed to them by the state? both valid positions. so what do you think? was the judge wrong? should we let them die and save money? or should we actually save their souls against their very wishes? i have no position either way, so you be the judge.