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Is Forced Medication Constitutional?

May 22, 2003

On March 3 the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments to decide if the government can administer anti-psychotic medication against a defendant's will to help render him competent to stand trial for nonviolent offenses, or whether that violates the defendant's rights under the First, Fifth and Sixth Amendments to the Constitution.

The case involves a Missouri dentist named Charles Thomas Sell, who was charged with Medicaid fraud in 1997. Dr. Sell also has been diagnosed with paranoid delusional disorder and ruled incompetent to stand trial. But he has refused the government-ordered anti-psychotic medication, claiming such drugs interfere with his thinking and have serious side effects.

"Typically, forced drugging is reserved for extreme cases where someone will likely cause harm to himself or others if he is not medicated. A lower court has already found that Dr. Sell poses no danger to himself or others," reports the Center for Cognitive Liberty and Ethics (CCLE). The organization also notes, "the side effects of anti-psychotic drugs can be so agonizing that patients often find them harder to bear than their illness. Therefore even people whose illness causes them to behave irrationally can have very rational reasons for refusing these drugs."

Dr. Sell's brief was filed in the high court by CCLE.

High Court Decision Has Broad Implications

The court's decision is expected in June and "could have broad implications regarding the state's power to control, prohibit, or forcibly administer psychoactive drugs," says CCLE.

For information about the case (Sell v. United States, No. 02-5664) visit CCLE's Web site:

This article was originally published in the March/April 2003 issue of Health Freedom Watch, the bimonthly watchdog report published by the Institute for Health Freedom.

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