When Dying Alone in Prison Is Too Harsh a Sentence

MY patient, a man in his 60s, whispered “Gracias, God bless” over and over as I moved his legs during an exam. Our palliative care team had been called in to help manage his pain after his liver cancer recurred. The cancer had already metastasized to his spine, creating pressure on his spinal cord that left him nearly paralyzed from the waist down. He seemed like a felled tree. We found him tearful and scared. But he wasn’t alone.

At his side were the corrections officers who had accompanied him from the prison where he was incarcerated on a conspiracy charge related to a drug arrest. They guarded his door day and night and screened all his visitors. As the doctors told him that his life would soon be over, his officers watched television, ate snacks, and read the newspaper. One day on my way out of his room, I asked an officer whether the patient would be told that he was being moved to a different prison once he left the hospital. He wasn’t entitled to know, said the officer flatly, because he was “property of the state.”

– The New York Times

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