AP Photo/Bob Child, pool
Arthur Caplan, a medical ethicist from the University of Pennsylvania (AP Photo/Bob Child, pool)

He doesn’t consider himself an expert on prison protocol, but a bioethics expert testified Friday that he believes prison doctors acted unethically when they force fed a British citizen on a hunger strike.

During the second day of inmate William Coleman’s trial, Arthur Caplan, a University of Pennsylvannia bioethics professor, said that Coleman has the right to refuse any and all medical treatment, including nourishment which may save his life.

“I believe there has to be a clear and present danger to override a competent person’s right to refuse medical treatment,” Caplan testified.

AP Photo/Bob Child, pool
William Coleman puts his hand over his eyes (AP Photo/Bob Child, pool)

“This is true regardless of the setting they are in,” Caplan said.

Dr. Edward Blanchete, the Correction Department’s clinical director defended his decision to twice thread a tube down Coleman’s throat and into his stomach in an effort to preserve his life.

Judge James Graham asked Dr. Blanchette what he believes would have happened to Coleman had be not intervened. “I believe he would have died,” Blanchette said before leaving the witness stand Friday.

Most of the second day of the trial was a continuation of Dr. Blanchette’s testimony and details about the two nasogastric force feedings performed on Oct. 23, 2008 and Oct. 27, 2008.

During his cross-examination of Dr. Blanchette, William Murray, Coleman’s attorney, asked what Coleman was yelling during the force feeding procedure.

“Stop. I don’t want this,” Blanchette testified.

“I think he told me afterward that he had some pain involved in the procedure,” Blanchette said. However, “having been through the procedure myself I can tell you that it’s not painful. It is uncomfortable.”

Blanchette also testified that there were complications during both nasogastric force feedings. The tube kinked in Coleman’s nasal phalanx, so Blanchette said he pulled it out and called for a larger gauge tube to be inserted. The tube kinked on the first attempt during the second feeding too.

The video cameras during both of the procedures were turned off.

Blanchette testified that the video cameras were on while Coleman was being restrained, but were turned off during the procedure even though he had asked him to leave them on.

Blanchette said he also recruited nursing staff with correctional experience that were “willing to engage in this procedure.”

Along with Murray, attorneys for the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut say the state is violating Coleman’s right to free speech and his right to refuse medical treatment.
David McGuire, an attorney with the ACLU, said he met with Coleman the day after the first force feeding and could still see evidence of vomit on the inmate’s sweatshirt and pants. After the procedure was performed, Coleman filled six to seven Kleenex with bloody discharge, he said.
McGuire called the measure “extreme” and “unexpected” since the Correction Department had been administering a saline drip to Coleman every Tuesday and Friday since September 2008 when he began refusing any liquids. Prior to the one-year anniversary of his hunger strike, Coleman had maintained his strength by drinking water, juice, and some milk.
Since October Coleman has gone back to drinking some fluids.
Coleman was convicted by a jury in 2005 of raping his ex-wife during a child custody dispute while they were both still living in the same Waterbury home. Coleman has maintained his innocence throughout his conviction and incarceration.

He has lost several appeals and his writ of habeas corpus has barely inched along over the past three years since it was first filed.

The trial will continue on Thursday, Feb. 5.