Dying in Detention: Where Are the Bioethicists?

In Elizabeth Victor & Laura K. Guidry-Grimes (eds.), Applying Nonideal Theory to Bioethics: Living and Dying in a Nonideal World. Springer. pp. 333-355 (2021)
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In 2018, at least 12 adults and 3 children died in U.S. detention facilities. In 2017, 12 people died in U.S. detention facilities and at least 10 women filed complaints against ICE for mistreatment that led them to miscarry. At the time of this writing, 26 people have died in US Custody during the Trump Administration and 74 people have died in U.S. detention facilities between 2010 and 2018, including Raul Ernesto Morales-Ramos, Augustina Ramirez-Arreola, Moises Tino-Lopez, Jose Azurdia, and Roxana Hernandez. I am not going to argue that these deaths are wrong – I take that as obvious. Instead, I will suggest that nonideal theory shows why bioethicists have special obligations for condemning these deaths and getting involved to make them stop. When we heed nonideal theory’s demand to consider empirical realities, we will see that the role of the bioethicist extends wherever health care does. Moreover, when bioethicists expressly embrace nonideal rather than ideal theories to ground our work, we will see that there are plenty such theories available to us. Shelly Wilcox’s nonideal theory of immigration justice is especially well suited for bioethicists to use in relation to detainee health care and enter the conversation where they are so desperately needed.



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Allison B. Wolf
Simpson College

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