Saturday, May 12, 2007

The global race to the bottom: drugging deportees

Mention forcibly sedating deportees, and you may envision extraordinary rendition of blindfolded and shackled terrorism suspects in private aircraft to secret destinations -- but in reality, the practice is much more common and much more widespread. On Wednesday, the ACLU of Southern California publicized its investigation into Homeland Security's forcible sedation of immigrants in order to deport them. The Los Angeles Daily Journal quotes DHS: "[u]nder no circumstances are detainees medicated solely to facilitate transport, unless a medical professional determines that they present a danger to themselves and others," but one ACLU client has no history of mental illness and denies resisting deportation, while the other had a stay of deportation pending his appeal. Sadly, the horrifying practice of medicating detainees against their will for non-medical reasons has already gone global: detention center staff report that Australia has forcibly sedated detainees for deportation since 2000; Japan reportedly injected detainees with drugs and deported them "in a state of trance"; German police forcibly sedated a detainee who then died of heart failure; and even Finland forcibly drugged a Ukrainian family against their will in order to deport them. It seems that many of our peer nations are all too willing to cast aside their human rights obligations in order to keep immigrants out. So how do we stop this race to the bottom? In addition to domestic lawsuits and media campaigns, given the implications for medical ethics, non-state actors might provide a transnational solution: In Australia, for example, the New South Wales Nurses' Association advised its members that "participating in the non-consensual administration of medication to immigration detainees would constitute an illegal act." Perhaps medical associations could work across borders to ensure that doctors and nurses worldwide, consistent with their professional obligations, respect the human rights of immigrants. After all, as one forcibly drugged immigrant eloquently notes, he is "no animal," but a human with rights just like the rest of us.

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