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Force-Feeding Prison Inmate on Hunger Strike Does Not Violate His Rights
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On Thursday, the Court of appeals in New York found that a court order authorizing force feeding of a prison inmate on a hunger strike did not violate any of his rights. The inmate, Leroy Dorsey, argued that prison officials violated his right to refuse medical treatment when they force-fed him.

Dorsey, who lost close to 100 pounds during his hunger strikes in 2010 at two upstate prisons, also argued that prisoners can be force-fed only if they are suicidal. He argued that he went on hunger strikes to draw attention to his plight and not to kill himself.

However, the Court of appeals disagreed and found that Dorsey could not “strong-arm” prison officials with hunger strikes and force them to grant him extra privileges.


Writing for the majority, Judge Victoria Graffeo observed, “Whatever his purported intent, by refusing to eat for a prolonged period of time despite repeated warnings concerning the imminent physiological damage that behavior was causing, Dorsey knowingly inflicted injury on himself that, if continued, would result in his death.”

The decision in Norman Bezio v. Leroy Dorsey comes at a time when almost 100 inmates at Guantánamo continue on their hunger strike, with many of them being force-fed.

The court order to force feed Dorsey was affirmed last year by the Appellate Division, Third Department which found that the interest of the state in protecting the health of inmates, “outweighs an individual inmate’s right to make personal choices about what nourishment to accept.”

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Even though the majority affirmed the earlier decision made by the First Department, Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman dissented along with Judge Jenny Rivera, with both holding that the prison officials had failed to prove that Dorsey would have died, if he had continued his hunger strike.

Lippman wrote in dissent, “Rather than acknowledge that impediment to appellate review, the majority forges ahead, embracing the notion that the state’s legitimate penological interest in force feeding hunger striking prisoners is in all cases self-evident.”

Lippman also held that Dorsey’s appeal should not have been entertained as he did not raise his argument presented in appeal at the trial court level.


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