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The Upstate Ethicist: How do you treat a killer?

The Upstate EthicistAdam Theall arrived at Upstate University Hospital‘s emergency room critically wounded, with at least 14 state police bullets in his body on June 22, 2010. The man from Oneida County killed his 3-month-old son, Eithen with a shotgun blast on his front porch, then turned his gun on troopers. Troopers fired back.

Theall needed medical care.

Caregivers reflexively took action, few questions asked, except as they related to the medical emergency. They suspended personal feelings. That is the way doctors and nurses and technicians are taught. See a problem; fix it.

Behind the conditioned response is the ancient principle, connecting to the Hippocratic tradition nearly 2,500 years ago, of treating every patient the same, without regard for whom that person is. In addition, laws and international agreements such as the Geneva Conventions require prisoners to be treated humanely and receive the medical care they require.

Such rules may help condition reflexes. They do not necessarily erase conflicting feelings caregivers may have.

Theall pleaded guilty and is serving a state prison term of 25 years to life.

The Upstate Ethicist is compiled from “Bioethics in Brief,” a publication of Upstate‘s Center for Bioethics and Humanities.