Prisoners Retain Right to Refuse Medical Treatment

An interesting opinion from Maryland’s highest court just handed down yesterday, Stouffer v. Reid. An excerpt:

The respondent, Troy Reid …, an adult male, was committed to the custody of the Commissioner of Correction in 1995 to serve a forty year sentence. Reid’s medical history while in the institution revealed a diagnosis of high blood pressure, human immunodeficiency virus and end-stage renal disease. In July 2007, prison medical personnel diagnosed Reid with end-stage renal disease and prescribed the application of kidney dialysis three times per week. Initially, Reid consented to the dialysis treatment; however, even though he understood the medical consequences of ceasing dialysis (serious bodily injury and even death), he eventually requested that all treatment be terminated. As a result of his refusal to submit to kidney dialysis in April 2008, the petitioner, J. Michael Stouffer, Commissioner of Correction …, filed a complaint … seeking declaratory and injunctive relief to compel Reid to submit to kidney dialysis and medical treatment that medical professionals had determined was necessary.

This case presents the question of whether the Commissioner presented sufficient evidence to override a competent adult inmate’s right to object to life-sustaining medical treatment. We shall hold that, under the circumstances of the present case, the Commissioner’s non-specific claim of preservation of life, safety, and security was insufficient to demonstrate that Reid’s refusal of medical treatment would cause a disruption or impact safety in the institution, or endanger the ethics of the medical profession.