Researchers see ethical dilemmas of providing care in drug detention centers

Nov 10, 2010

(Garrison, NY) Organizations that seek to provide health care, food, and other services to people held in drug detention centers in developing countries often face ethical dilemmas: Are they doing more good than harm? Are they helping detainees or legitimizing a corrupt system and ultimately building its capacity to detain and abuse more people?

Such dilemmas are explored in an article coauthored by Nancy Berlinger and Michael Gusmano, research scholars at The Hastings Center, along with Roxanne Saucier and Daniel Wolfe of the Open Society Institute, and Nicholas Thomson of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. The article appears in the current issue of the International Journal of Prisoner Health.

The article focuses on the drug detention centers that have proliferated over the last decade in China, Cambodia, Vietnam, and other parts of Asia. Although the centers say that they provide drug treatment and rehabilitation, in reality people inside receive no effective drug treatment, little medical care, and insufficient food. Indeed, they are more likely to face what amounts to torture, cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment. Unlike prisons, detention centers have no judicial process or right of appeal. More than 400,000 people are detained each year.

Some nongovernmental organizations attempt to provide care and services to the detainees, but center administrators and their governments sometimes seek these relationships to legitimatize the detention centers. "In 2008, many were alarmed when a large U.S.-funded health organization sent an announcement saying that they were going to help make a notoriously abusive drug detention center in Cambodia a 'Center for Excellence,'" the authors write. "This same center was widely viewed by most health and human rights organizations as beyond redemption."

The goal of providing health services to detainees is ethically sound, the article says. However, it presents an – a situation in which no option is clearly right, and that can be resolved only by determining which option is less wrong than others under particular circumstances. "It would be incorrect to assume that doing something in this setting – in this case, undertaking health-related goals – is better than doing 'nothing,'" the authors write. Doing nothing may be preferable if engaging with drug detention centers amounts to what the authors call a "rotten compromise."

They conclude that leaders of health-related organizations should evaluate how their programs can promote health in drug detention centers, and also how or whether their work might make conditions much worse. Given that health-related resources are limited, the authors suggest that the leaders ask themselves, "might the resources in this instance be better served by efforts to keep individuals out of detention centers in the first instance?"

Explore further: Can YouTube save your life?

Provided by The Hastings Center

not rated yet
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Poor mental health found among young offenders

Sep 03, 2008

(PhysOrg.com) -- Adolescent girls in young offender institutions are particularly vulnerable to depression, a large-scale study led by Oxford University has shown. The researchers have found incidences of ...

Uninsured can't access specialty services

Sep 11, 2007

A U.S. study suggested uninsured patients at community health centers often encounter problems when seeking specialty services outside such centers.

Recommended for you

Can YouTube save your life?

4 hours ago

Only a handful of CPR and basic life support (BLS) videos available on YouTube provide instructions which are consistent with recent health guidelines, according to a new study published in Emergency Medicine Australasia, the jo ...

Doctors frequently experience ethical dilemmas

5 hours ago

(HealthDay)—For physicians trying to balance various financial and time pressures, ethical dilemmas are common, according to an article published Aug. 7 in Medical Economics.

AMGA: Physician turnover still high in 2013

5 hours ago

(HealthDay)—For the second year running, physician turnover remains at the highest rate since 2005, according to a report published by the American Medical Group Association (AMGA).

Obese or overweight teens more likely to become smokers

6 hours ago

A study examining whether overweight or obese teens are at higher risk for substance abuse finds both good and bad news: weight status has no correlation with alcohol or marijuana use but is linked to regular ...

Taking preventive health care into community spaces

7 hours ago

A church. A city park. An office. These are not the typical settings for a medical checkup. But a new nationwide study by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research shows that providing health services in ...

User comments : 0