February 24, 2024

War on terror in another bioethical fix

Should detainees be sedated?

The war on terror has thrown up another bioethical conundrum: forcible drugging of foreigners deported from the United States. The Washington Post has learned that hundreds of deportees were injected with dangerous psychotropic drugs to keep them docile until they are delivered to their home country between 2003 and 2007. "Involuntary chemical restraint of detainees, unless there is a medical justification, is a violation of some international human rights codes," says the Post. Federal officials have described the practice as "an act of last resort", but the newspaper alleges that more than 250 people were drugged by the Department of Homeland Security’s new Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.

Many of the deportees had resisted attempts to deport them in the past, but they did not necessarily do so when they were medicated. In the year to October 2007, 53 people were sedated without a psychiatric reason. Fifty of these were given Haldol, a drug used to treat schizophrenia and drug-induced psychosis. It is also notorious as the drug used to subdue Soviet prisoners of conscience in psychiatric hospitals. "Using haloperidol [another name for Haldol] is kind of like detaining people in Abu Ghraib," according to Nigel Rodley, an expert in international human rights law at the University of Essex in the UK.

Apparently the practice was halted in May 2007 after a couple of cases became public (although you have to read to the very end to discover that the US is no longer doing this routinely). In June 2007 government officials were told that involuntary sedation required a court order, although the Post claims that at least one person, an Egyptian, was drugged involuntarily without a court order when he was returned. ~ Washington Post, May 14