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Copyright (c) 2009 Tennessee Law Review Association, Inc.
Tennessee Law Review

Symposium: The Illusion of Sanity: The Constitutional and Moral Danger of Medicating Condemned Prisoners in Order to Execute Them

Spring, 2009


76 Tenn. L. Rev. 641


Lyn Suzanne Entzeroth*


One of the more complicated and morally fraught aspects of the death penalty scheme in the United States is its imposition on individuals suffering from severe mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia or other psychotic or delusional disorders. 1 In Ford v. Wainwright 2 and Panetti v. Quarterman 3 , the U.S. Supreme Court recognized that the Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause of the Eighth Amendment prohibits the execution of someone deemed insane. 4 However, these decisions left unanswered an important question: Can a state execute a condemned inmate whose sanity appears to be restored by the administration of antipsychotic drugs? This question raises significant Eighth Amendment and due process issues, as well as moral and ethical problems for the medical personnel who must administer the antipsychotic medication so as to render the inmate ready to execute. Further complicating this brew of legal and ethical concerns are constitutional doctrines allowing prisoners to be medicated, against their will, if it is in the best interest of the prisoner and a substantial state interest is at stake. Thus, there is a more troubling question: When can the state forcibly medicate a condemned prisoner for the purpose of execution?

Given the growing number of mentally ill prisoners on death row 5 and the advances of antipsychotic medications, 6 the Supreme Court will likely face questions of whether a medicated, mentally ill prisoner can be executed and whether a state can force a prisoner to take antipsychotic medication in preparation ...
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