Mentally Ill Executions
"An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth" is the philosophy many people use when it comes to the punishment of criminals. The death penalty has been debated for many years as it has come into and then fallen out of favor for the American public. Today the death penalty by lethal injection has been put on hold on a couple of states. The legality of the "cruel and unusual punishment" is being heatedly debated. The death penalty is especially volatile when it comes to the mentally ill. When a mentally ill person commits a crime worthy of the death penalty the state and those involved with the case often face a moral and ethical dilemma. If the person is not capable of understanding why they are being executed or what the death penalty means to them, there is a legal, ethical and moral question about the fairness of that execution. The states' answer has been to medicate the mentally ill prisoner with anti-psychotic drugs so that they become capable of mentally understanding why they are going to be executed. "There is virtually no psychiatric diagnosis that always renders a defendant incompetent or unable to be held responsible for his or her acts (Reid, 1998)." The question then becomes how humane is it to bring them out of their mental illness, get them well enough and then kill them when they are able to finally understand what is happening to them? It is the courts responsibility that the defendant is capable of helping his own defense and that he fully understands his charges and his sentence. Forcing death row inmates to take medication to be sane enough to execute, is a legal, moral and ethical debate that will continue for a long time. "In 1986, the United States Supreme Court decided Ford v. Wainwright, holding that the execution of the mentally incompetent violates the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. A prisoner cannot be executed unless sufficiently competent to understand the nature and reasons for his punishment. This year, in a six-to-five decision and the first ruling of its kind, the closely divided United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit held, in Singleton v. Norris, that a mentally ill prisoner may be involuntarily medicated with antipsychotic drugs to restore his competency for execution (477 U.S. 399, 1986)." "The decision raises acute ethical dilemmas for criminal law and for medical and mental-health professionals who provide treatment for the condemned. Should medical professionals provide necessary mental-health treatment to a condemned prisoner when restoration of competency will likely result in his execution? Does doing so shift their role from that of "healer" to accomplices in the administration of the death penalty (Redding, Hensl 2004)?" The medical field and the judicial system clash with ethics on this debate. The moral and ethical obligation in the medical profession is to make sure that a patient is being treated for his symptoms in a proper manner and is receiving the proper medication for those symptoms. The judicial systems must make sure that the defendant is acutely aware and has full knowledge of his sentencing, which in this case means they must be fully aware of why they are to be executed. In this particular case, the death row inmate was a man who murdered and committed aggravated robbery. While in prison his mental health began to worsen and he was diagnosed as suffering from schizophrenia. His illness made him suffer from paranoia, delusions and other problems that are common to those with this disorder. "Singleton believed, for example, that his thoughts were being stolen and that demons filled his cell, and in his hallucinations, his food turned to worms and his cigarettes to bones. He lost considerable weight, spoke in odd languages, and sometimes refused to wear clothing. There were times when he believed he had already been executed (Stone, 2004)." In 1997, the prison began to...
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Reid, William H. MD, MPH (November 1998). Law and Psychiatry, Evaluating
Criminal Defendants: Responsibility and Competence to Stand Trial
American Psychological Association. (1994). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (4th ed.).
Singleton v. Norris, No. 00-1492, 319 F. 3d 1018 (U.S. App. 2003).
Stone, A.A. (March, 2004). Condemned prisoner treated and executed. Psychiatric
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Riggins v. Nevada No. 90-8466, 504 U.S. 127 (1992).
Ford v. Wainwright, 477 U.S. 399, 419 (1986) (Powell, J., concurring).
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