The ACLU of CT has filed suit on behalf of Bill Coleman, an inmate at Osborn Correctional Institute who is protesting what he believes is Connecticut’s corrupt judicial system through a hunger strike.
The suit asks a Superior Court judge to prevent the Department of Corrections officials from force-feeding Coleman through a nasogastric feeding tube without his permission. This highly invasive and painful procedure, it is argued, will bring Coleman’s hunger strike to an end, violating his rights to protest and to deny unwanted medical treatment.
“Hunger strikes remain an important form of political protest,” said Andrew Schneider, ACLU-CT Executive Director. “Over the years, this type of expressive conduct has been employed by Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela to grab the world’s attention to their plights when nothing else would do the same.”
ACLU-CT argues in its motion that Coleman’s hunger strike, which is non-disruptive to the administration of the prison system, is a recognized form of free speech protest that has a long history of use in the fight for social justice.
Since the fall of 2007, Coleman has refused to consume solid foods and has lost approximately 100 pounds. Coleman has been examined by doctors who have concluded that he is competent and is aware of the consequences of his actions. Coleman has a living will, executed on a Department of Connecticut form, that explicitly states that he is not to be resuscitated or force-fed.
“A person has a constitutional right to determine what happens to his or her body,” said David McGuire, ACLU-CT Staff Attorney. “Inserting a feeding tube against Mr. Coleman’s will is a violation of his right to bodily integrity and his right to deny medical treatment.”
Due to the intrusive nature of forced tube feeding, doctors around the world have condemned the practice. The World Medical Association, of which the American Medical Association is a part, has declared that “Forcible feeding is never ethically acceptable. Even if intended to benefit, feeding accompanied by threats, coercion, force or use of physical restraints is a form of inhuman and degrading treatment.”
William Murray of Edwards, Angell, Palmer, & Dodge LLP is acting as cooperating counsel for the ACLU of Connecticut.