Forced Drugging Case
Headed to Supreme Court
By Robert B. Bluey
CNSNews.com Staff Writer
(CNSNews.com) - For more than four years,
Missouri dentist Charles Sell has waited in a federal prison for his
trial on charges of Medicaid fraud, and the delay is attributed to
the government's persistent argument that Sell is not mentally
competent to stand trial unless he is forcibly drugged.
spring Sell will get his day in court. The U.S. Supreme Court has
decided to take up the case, and might also make a definitive
decision about forcing prison inmates and others to take
Not only will the highest court in the
land rule on Sell's fate, but a coalition of civil liberties
organizations and a physicians' group have called the case one of
the most significant on the court's docket this year for the
resolution it could bring to the forced drugging debate.
all the government has to do is file charges without proving them in
order to drug someone, then nobody is safe from government
intimidation," said Andrew Schlafly, general counsel for the
Association of American Physicians and Surgeons. "If the government
has that power, then it has enormous leverage to intimidate
defendants, witnesses and just about everybody."
physicians' group has joined forces with the conservative Eagle
Forum and the American Civil Liberties Union to argue against forced
drugging. The Justice Department has defended the government's
policy, and recently emerged victorious before the U.S. Court of
Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.
Sell is being held at the
Medical Center for Federal Prisoners in Springfield, Mo., and while
lawyers say there's no solid evidence that Sell is now being
forcibly drugged, he's spent more than 1,500 days in custody with no
trial. The state has diagnosed Sell as having what it calls a
If the court agrees with the
government's argument, Schlafly said it would amount to a huge loss
of liberty. He also warned that several states are currently
developing responses to bio-terror attacks that would involve
widespread vaccinations for smallpox and other diseases.
there is also hope in the court's willingness to hear the case.
There are conflicting decisions by two federal appeals courts --
typically one reason the court will review a case -- and the
circumstances of Sell's imprisonment might appear outrageous to some
of the justices, Schlafly said.
By striking down the
government's argument, the court could give Americans greater
choice, and the power to decide what vaccines children receive after
birth, said Eagle Forum lawyer John Schlafly, who is Andrew's
brother. Both are sons of Eagle Forum founder Phyllis
"We are moving rapidly to a point where dozens of
vaccinations are being required by the government for everybody,"
John Schlafly said. "Each vaccination should be voluntary or
injected with the informed consent of the patient for good medical
But an advocate of medicating the mentally ill said
Sell and other inmates should be given drugs "if the treatment is
medically appropriate," for the sake of the inmate's mental
"Within the circumstances of the case, we think he
should be medicated," said Jonathan Stanley, assistant director of
the Treatment Advocacy Center, which is not involved in the case.
"To leave someone riding in psychosis indefinitely, that's almost
the ultimate penalty."
Stanley, who has bipolar disorder,
said he knows from personal experience that there is nothing worse
than being in a state of psychosis, which is why his group promotes
programs that place people in treatment despite their desire to
The circumstances facing Sell are not ideal,
Stanley said, which leaves the government in a difficult
"Clearly, if he doesn't meet the standard to
contribute to the trial, work with his lawyers and understand the
charges, then he's not rationale," Stanley said. "This isn't the
last justification I would be looking for to get the treatment, but
it just so happens in this case that it sounds like [Sell] is pretty
While Sell's situation is obviously at the forefront
of the Supreme Court case, Stanley does not think that case will
have as big an impact as AAPS and other groups are
Sell was originally charged in May 1997 with
making false representations in connection with payments for health
care services, according to court records. Prosecutors accused him
and his wife of submitting false claims to Medicaid and private
insurance companies for work never completed.
He was released
on bond, but then in January 1998, a warrant was issued against him
for allegedly violating the terms of that agreement.
not until February 1999 when Sell's mental competency came into
play. Both Sell's psychologist and the government psychologist
diagnosed him with a delusional disorder, which was followed by a
hearing that determined he was incompetent to stand trial, according
to court records.
What has followed during Sell's time in
prison under the watch of government psychiatrists is not exactly
clear, said Dr. Jane M. Orient, executive director of
She said some of the biggest fears of forced drugging
involve the harmful side effects that can result from exposure to
certain medications. Some of the drugs most commonly used to treat
mental illness include Thorazine, Clozapine and Haldol, all of which
can pose irreversible health problems to individuals if not properly
prescribed, Orient said.
"The neurological side effects can
be extremely distressing," she said. "They can cause a person to
have involuntary movements that are quite disabling. They have
constant chewing motions or constant grimacing, sticking their
tongue out and other bizarre posturing and motions that just occur
all day long."
But side effects should not be a primary
factor in this case, she said, since giving inmates drugs against
their will is of greater concern. Orient said the secretive nature
of prisons is also troubling, which gives the government great
powers without much oversight -- the same fears that worry the civil
"This would give the prosecutors far too
much authority," she said. "This could be used as a form of torture
-- either do what they want or they'll keep giving you drugs.
Government should not have the right to intrude into your mind. It's
a very dangerous power."
No hearing date has been set for
the case, but it will take place after the court returns in January
for the spring term. It is called Sell v. United
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