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AMA J Ethics. 2017 Sep 1;19(9):854-861. doi: 10.1001/journalofethics.2017.19.9.peer2-1709.

Compassionate Release Policy Reform: Physicians as Advocates for Human Dignity.

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A fourth-year medical student at Harvard Medical School, and served as co-chair of the student leadership committee of the Harvard Medical School Center for Primary Care and is a student member of the board of the Academic Consortium on Criminal Justice Health.
A professor of medicine in the Division of Geriatrics at the University of California, San Francisco.


A rapidly aging correctional population has led to an increasing number of patients with serious progressive and terminal illnesses in correctional settings. "Compassionate release" describes a range of policies offering early release or parole to incarcerated patients with serious or debilitating illnesses. However, in many states that have compassionate release policies, few patients are actually granted release. We describe how the continued incarceration of patients with serious or debilitating illness can constitute a violation of human dignity if appropriate palliative care is unavailable. We argue that, given the importance in medical ethics of upholding dignity, physicians should advocate for the appropriate application and use of compassionate release. We describe several opportunities for physicians to take leadership on this issue.

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