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06.24.09 — Professor Martha Davis has sought leave to file an amicus brief on behalf of several law faculty across the country in a case pending in Connecticut. The state attorney general wants to force feed William Coleman, a prisoner in the Connecticut state system who has launched periodic hunger strikes over the past several years. The Connecticut superior court preliminarily agreed and the state commenced force feeding, but the court is now determining whether to make the order permanent. Coleman’s competency is not in question. Coleman, represented by the Connecticut ACLU, argues that force feeding violates his privacy rights under the US Constitution, the state constitution and the common law.
Professor Davis’ amicus brief argues that international law supports Coleman.
“Not only are world medical bodies in agreement that force feeding violates medical ethics,” says Davis, “but many other nations — particularly the UK and Canada — have rejected force feeding of a competent prisoner, agreeing that it is an impermissible violation of bodily integrity.”
In the US, the state courts have split on the issue. “The issue also came up with respect to Guantanamo detainees,” says Davis, “and a group of five UN special experts concluded that force feeding of a competent prisoner constitutes torture under international law. Our brief argues that state courts can appropriately consider international standards when they address these sorts of constitutional and common law issues.”