Monday, September 24, 2012

LAW REVIEWS: Ethics of Mental Incompetence and Death Row

A new article by Professors Brian D. Shannon (pictured) and Victor R. Scarano examines the ethical implications of mental incompetence among death row inmates, particularly with regards to forcible medication. According to the authors, cases involving incompetence to be executed and forced medication pit "the ethical duties of the medical and legal professions in opposition and [cast] a shadow over the legitimate and appropriate intentions and professional responsibilities of physicians and lawyers." While the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that mentally incompetent prisoners cannot be executed, only lower courts have ruled on the issue of forcing death row inmates to take medication with the purpose of rendering them competent for execution. The article concludes with a legislative recommendation that would "obviate the ethical dilemma" of forcible medication: "upon a determination by the trial court that the defendant is incompetent to be executed (and following any appeal), the court should vacate the death sentence and substitute a life sentence without the possibility of parole," thus allowing psychiatrists to "proceed to treat the symptoms of the inmate's serious mental illness, without the ethical concern that such treatment could lead to the inmate's execution."

(B. Shannon and V. Scarano, "Incompetency to Be Executed: Continuing Ethical Challenges & Time for a Change in Texas," Texas Tech Law Review, Vol. 45, 2013.)

See Mental Illness and Death Row.