Medical Release of Terminally Ill Inmates

Medical Release of Terminally Ill Inmates

 “Medical Release” has been available in the United States since 1984. Massachusetts is one of five states that have not adopted some form of early release for inmates who are dying.[1]

The Massachusetts Catholic Conference supports the advancement of legislation (pdf) that would allow inmates who pose no threat to society the option to die at home with family members or in another appropriate facility better equipped to address the individual and familiar challenges that arise as a person approaches the final stage of life.

As stated by Pope John Paul II,Crosshuman dignity is an undeserved gift, not an earned status.”   And, human dignity must be protected at all times, especially during periods of high vulnerability. Approaching death is a decisive, yet fragile time period for a person and their family.

“[T]he moment of death is always accompanied by particularly intense human sentiments: an earthy life is ending, the emotional, generational, and social ties that are part of the person’s inner self are dissolving; people who are dying and those who assist them are aware of the conflict between hope and immortality and the unknown which troubles even the most enlightened minds.”[3] “The awareness that the dying person will soon meet God for all eternity should impel his or her relatives, loved ones, the medical, health-care and religious personnel, to help him or her in this decisive phase of life, with concern that pays attention to every aspect of existence, including spiritual.”[4] The terminally ill need the solidarity, communion and affection of those around them. These urgent needs often cannot be addressed fully in a prison setting.

“Treating a terminally ill individual in prison is difficult at best. Inmates are usually isolated from their friends and family on the outside precisely when they need them the most. In addition, compassion for the dying means that correctional health care staff, as well as other correctional staff, must make a change in the way they relate to the terminally ill – one that transforms them from inmates to patients to human beings.”[5] The reality of the correctional facility setting coupled with the basic needs of a person approaching death could motivate the Commonwealth to become the forty-sixth state to offer some version of “Medical Release” to dying inmates.beautiful white dove

Voice your Opinion:

  1. Call, email, write or visit your State Representative and State Senator.
  2. To determine who your elected officials are visit   or call at 617-722-2000
  3. Share your lobbying success with the Massachusetts Catholic Conference by calling 617-367-6060




[1] Fernandez, E., “Reforms Needed for Compassionate Release of Prison Inmates.”, June 2, 2011.

[2] Boothby, J. and L. Overduin, “Attitudes Regarding the Compassionate Release of Terminally Ill Offenders.” The Prison Journal, vol. 87 no. 4, December, 2007.

[3] “Love and Solidarity for the Dying.” Pope John Paul II, Address to the Pontifical Academy for Life, February 27, 1999.

[4] “Faith responds to fears about death.” Pope John Paul II, Address to an international congress on the care of the dying, March 17, 1992.

[5] Thigpen, M., L. Solomon, S. Hunter, and M. Ortiz, “Addressing the Needs of Elderly, Chronically Ill, and Terminally Ill Inmates.” U. S. Department of Justice National Institute of Corrections, Washington, DC, February, 2004.

[6] Buckley, C., “Law Has Little Effect on Early Release for Inmates” The New York Times, January 30, 2010.