Medical Ethics Behind Bars

Instructors: Logan McBride, Elizabeth Reis
Time: Thursdays, 12:00 PM – 2:40 PM
Modality: Hybrid Synchronous
Macaulay Classroom 2 (204)
Course Code: MHC 329

It is generally agreed that the United States’ four-decade experiment with mass incarceration has been a political, economic, and social calamity, disproportionately impacting Black and Indigenous people, and communities of color. But what insights and lessons can be drawn from re-examining these policies through the lenses of public health and medical ethics?

In this seminar we will engage with a range of sources, from medical journals and scholarly works, to first person accounts and statistical data, to explore ethical issues regarding medical care that those living behind bars have faced, and the relationship between mass incarceration and public health.

The field of medical ethics is founded on principles of autonomy, confidentiality, and trust – in carceral contexts each of these fundamental elements is missing, or severely curtailed. Everything about the lives of incarcerated people is scheduled, mandated, and restricted. Incarcerated people suffer disproportionately from physical and mental illnesses as well as physical, cognitive, and learning disabilities. As patients, how are they able to make their own health care decisions? Do incarcerated people enjoy the same doctor-patient relationships that others have come to expect? Can patients refuse treatment in prison? And for their part, physicians and nurses have a loyalty to their patients, but they also serve the institution, which could compromise patient care. How, for example, can physicians promise confidentiality in a prison environment? In this class we will explore these issues and others.

In Person Meetings for Hybrid Courses:
8/31, 9/7, 9/14, 9/28, 10/26, 11/2, 11/9, 11/16, 11/30, 12/7

Alisa Roth, Insane: America’s Criminal Treatment of Mental Illness