They’d Have to Be Crazy

"UTMB’s Correctional Managed Care program has an agreement with Lone Star College involving its Law Enforcement Phlebotomy Program. The participating Houston police officers at the units were there as part of the Lone Star College course they were taking. Having blood drawn is part of the standard intake process at TDCJ and mentally ill offenders were given the option of having a police officer or a staff phlebotomist perform the procedure. All of the mentally ill offenders involved chose to allow the police officers to do the procedure."

That's the University of Texas Medical Branch's statement (via Stephen Dean, Channel 2 News) rationalizing the use of mentally-ill prison inmates as guinea pigs for police officers learning to draw blood from people suspected of DWI.

Well, it's almost UTMB's statement rationalizing the practice; the medical school didn't in fact acknowledge that the inmates who "chose" to allow the cops (rather than professional phlebotomists) to draw their blood were all psychiatric patients.

Now we don't expect police officers necessarily to have a functioning ethical compass—the Supreme Court has endorsed police lies, and where the truth is optional there's no ground on which ethics can stand.

But we expect doctors (presumably there are doctors involved with making policy at UTMB) to behave ethically. I'm no medical ethicist, but this one doesn't pass even the general-ethics smell test.

Most TDCJ inmates have mental health problems, so the bar for assignment to a psychiatric unit is not set low; the people on whom the HPD cops were experimenting were an especially mentally ill subset of a mentally ill population. Further many of them would, by the time they arrived at prison from some county jail, have been off their psych meds for long enough to be in crisis.

Even if any inmate in an inherently coercive prison system could voluntarily consent to amateur medical treatment, there's no way all of these human beings were competent to consult to being practice dummies for the cops.

Every TDCJ inmate—even those who aren't sick enough to be sent to Jester IV—has blood drawn as part of the intake process. So why didn't UTMB ask mentally healthy inmates to consent to having these laymen stick needles in them? For that matter, why not ask free-world patients at UTMB-Galveston to allow the police to experiment on them?

I think we all know the answer to that.


8 responses to “They’d Have to Be Crazy”

  1. If they want to stick people with needles, they should practice on each other. I was in the military for several years where i was certified as a “combat lifesaver,” which is a sort of immediate-response first-aid provider. Part of the training was learning how to apply an intravenous saline drip. It was all hands-on training. . . on each other, and with mixed results. I completed my graded intravenous drip on my training partner with no problems. When it was his turn, he hit an artery and sprayed type-O positive all over the training room and caused a giant deep-tissue hematoma that went from my wrist to the back of my shoulder blades. My point is that people just should not subject other people to a procedure that which they wouldn’t willingly endure themselves. It doesn’t really surprise me that police officers are willing to subject people to a procedure that they are unwilling to subject themselves to. They don’t have enough confidence in their colleagues ability to draw a blood sample without blowing out a vein or causing an infection, but they are just fine subjecting citizens to that same risk. Just like how officers always downplay the impact of taser weapons (“I was tased in training, it isn’t that bad”) when their personal experience with a taser is in a safe training environment, on wrestling mats, after a physical exam, and with spotters so that they don’t bump their little heads.

      • guess I should have clicked through and read before i jumped to that conclusion. It was misdirected outrage anyways. The real outrage of the whole program isn’t that they are practicing on others, but the vulnerable population they have selected to use as practice dummies. You pretty much covered that in your original post.

  2. How can someone mentally ill give “genuine consent”? I thought all prisoner experiments were deemed illegal on those grounds?

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