Rules on compassionate release of inmates sought

NEWS IN BRIEF — Posted June 6, 2011

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Developing national guidelines on the early release of terminally ill prisoners would ensure rules are clinically meaningful, reduce in-prison deaths and lower inmate medical costs, says a May 31 Annals of Internal Medicine report (link).

All but five states allow dying prisoners to seek early release, but most applications aren't approved. In 2008, there were 399 deaths in federal prisons and 27 compassionate release approvals, including six who died during final review, said the report by physicians at the University of California, San Francisco; City University of New York; and Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York.

Existing rules require prisoners to have a predictable prognosis or health issues that make incarceration unjustifiable. It's often difficult for physicians to predict life expectancy or get approval for cognitively impaired prisoners. Doctors should help develop national rules, including provision of prisoner advocates and fast-track options, the report said. "As a medical profession, we must lend our expertise and ethical suasion to ensure that compassion is fairly delivered," it said.

Note: This item originally appeared at

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