Prisoners don’t have a right to refuse force-feeding merely to maintain a fast or hunger strike that would eventually kill them, the Washington Supreme Court ruled, 8 to 1, reports the Associated Press. The decision rejected arguments of inmate Charles McNabb, who claimed Washington’s strong constitutional privacy protections gave him a right to starve himself to death while behind bars. McNabb, 53, was sentenced to more than 14 years in prison after pleading guilty to arson and assault for a fire at his estranged wife’s home.
After nearly six months of fasting McNabb hoped would kill him, prison officials force-fed him by inserting a tube through his nose. McNabb agreed to eat on his own after several days of tube feeding, but he challenged the state prison system’s force-feeding policy in court. The court said he did not have a constitutional right to starve himself to death, saying a healthy prisoner’s circumstances are far different from those governed by a state law that allows gravely ill people to refuse life-sustaining treatment. The court’s majority was split over whether a prisoner has even a limited right to refuse food and hydration without a “terminal or incurable illness, or a severe and permanent mental and physical deterioration.”