The US Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on March 2 in the case of Francisco Castaneda, an immigrant from El Salvador who was detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) from March 2006-February 2007.
While Castaneda was in detention, he complained repeatedly to medical staff about a worrisome lesion on his penis, and filed numerous urgent requests to receive medical attention for it. For 11 months, he was ignored for 11 months by US Public Health Service medical personnel, senior ICE officers, and Division of Immigration Health Services administrators, who apparently knew that Castaneda needed a biopsy to determine whether or not he had penile cancer.
According to Public Justice, after the lesion had developed into a growth and prisoners’ rights groups had begun to advocate loudly for Castaneda,
DIHS finally approved and scheduled a biopsy for [him]. A couple of days before the appointment, however, ICE suddenly released him from custody – thereby releasing the federal government from financial responsibility for the medical care and treatment that Mr. Castaneda would likely – and, as it turns out, did – require.
Frightened by his condition, Mr. Castaneda went to the emergency room at a local hospital in Los Angeles. A biopsy performed on the lump near the base of his penis confirmed that he had invasive squamous cell carcinoma. The doctors advised immediate amputation, noting that, even with surgery, Mr. Castaneda might have no more than a year to live. On Valentine’s Day, February 14, 2007, Mr. Castaneda’s penis was removed.
Castaneda did indeed die in February 2008, after a year of chemotherapy, from the cancer that government officials refused to let him treat.
Now, the Supreme Court will decide whether U.S. Public Health Service officials can be sued for violating the Constitution by denying Castaneda treatment and ultimately causing the amputation of his penis, followed by his death in what the district court has called "one of the most, if not the most, egregious Eighth Amendment violations the Court has ever encountered." The defendants claim that, on the contrary, they cannot be held accountable for these violations, because, they argue, the people they injure and kill are limited to negligence suits against the United States under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA).
No government official should be excused for violating the Constitution. Those who have done so by ignoring the pleas of Mr. Castaneda and others like him should pay for the harms they’ve caused.