Published by The Lawfare Institute
in Cooperation With
Even if the Court had jurisdiction to consider Petitioners’ motion for preliminary injunction, the motion would be denied due to failure to show likelihood of success on the merits and because the public interest and balance of harms weighs in favor of the Government. Although framed as a motion to stop feeding via nasogastric tube, Petitioners’ real complaint is that the United States is not allowing them to commit suicide by starvation. They cite copious experts who state that a sane person should be allowed to choose starvation and death over life. See Mot. at 15-17. Petitioners contend that life-saving treatment is not reasonably related to a legitimate penological purpose. See Turner v Safley, 482 U.S. 78, 89 (1987) (a prison regulation must be reasonably related to legitimate penological interests when it impinges on an inmate’s constitutional rights). Even if Petitioners are accorded such constitutional rights, they have not carried their burden of showing that the policy of feeding enterally hunger-striking detainees is unreasonable. See Overton v. Bazzetta, 539 U.S. 126, 132 (2003) (the burden of proof is on the inmate to show that a prison regulation is unreasonable).
As his custodian, the United States cannot “allow” any person held in custody to starve himself to death. Whatever the medical ethics for a person at liberty, the United States as custodian has additional obligations. Numerous courts have recognized the Government’s affirmative duty to prevent suicide and to provide life-saving nutritional and medical care to persons in custody.