A Suspected Piece of Evidence and the Limits of Physician Responsibility and Personal Rights
In the December 21, 2006 news from Texas: A 17 year old male allegedly has a bullet just below the skin about two inches above his eyes fired by a robbery victim. Prosecutors claim that the bullet will prove that the youth tried to fatally shoot a used car lot owner last July after he and other gang members robbed the business. His family and their attorney are fighting a court order to force him to undergo surgery to remove the projectile which prosecutors say would be the evidence that could send the teen to prison for attempted murder. On the basis of a search warrant in October, a physician evaluated a bump on the patient’s head and told prosecutors that operating room surgery under anesthesia would be needed to remove the suspected bullet. A second search warrant requested a Texas hospital to remove the bullet but the hospital refused. Prosecutors are currently trying to find a physician to perform the surgery. (Here is the link to the whole story from which I adapted the synopsis.)
This news item can raise a number of interesting ethical/professional and legal questions such as: to whom does a physician owe the trust and responsibility?: to the physician’s patient or to the police? Can the police force a physician to provide a search of the suspect's body? When does a criminal suspect become a patient? When does the individual’s right to preserve the integrity of one’s body become trumped by the duty of the police to obtain evidence in order to protect the public? Any answers? ..Maurice.