Bioethics Blogs

Tennessee Inmates Sue for Hepatitis C Treatment


On July 25, 2016, inmates
incarcerated in Tennessee prisons filed a class action lawsuit against the
state’s Department of Corrections “
asking the court to force the state to start treating all
inmates who have the potentially deadly disease [hepatitis C].”


The inmates are represented by several advocacy
organizations: American Civil Liberties Union, Disability Rights Tennessee, and
No Exceptions Prison Collective. The gist of the lawsuit centers on a claim
that failure to provide inmates with what now is believed to be standard of
care treatment for hepatitis C is “cruel and unusual punishment” and
unconstitutional.


            The
prevalence of hepatitis C in Tennessee’s prison and adult general populations have
been estimated at 23% and 4.4%, respectively. 
Moreover, there are more
persons incarcerated in Tennessee than just the state’s prison system. One
Tennessee county jail recently reported that 92% of its detainees had hepatitis
C! 
Tennessee counties are
usually financially responsible for the health care costs of those jailed
within their jurisdictions.


            From
news accounts that are reporting the story the principal issue clearly is money.
The medicine – which is an extremely effective cure – costs about $1000 per pill
to be taken daily for 12 weeks. The estimated cost per patient is about
$84,000. The total cost to the Department of Corrections is staggering given
the numbers of patients that may require treatment.


            But
the unstated – the implied – more pressing issue from the story is not just cost,
it is fairness and justice for all Tennesseans. The Tennessee legislature is
responsible for the budget that funds both the Department of Corrections and
the state’s Medicaid program.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.