Former Black Panther and internationally renowned journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal spent 5 years fighting for access to hepatitis C treatment while in prison. On July 19, a federal appeals court upheld his right to sue Corrections Department employees for denying him access to life-saving medications. Read more about the case here.
Abu-Jamal was convicted of murdering a Philadelphia police officer in 1981. After sitting 30 years on death row, his sentence was overturned on constitutional grounds. He is now serving life without parole.
Abu-Jamal was diagnosed with hepatitis C in 2012. Three years later, he was rushed to the hospital, and declared in critical condition. He repeatedly asked to be treated with two anti-viral drugs, but the prison system committee denied his request on the grounds that his case was not severe enough. According to previous testimony by Dr. Paul Noel, the chief of clinical services for the state’s department of corrections, the state’s protocol was designed, “to identify those with the most serious liver disease and to treat them first, and then … move down the list to the lower priorities.” Patients that do not have esophageal varices, enlarged veins in the throat that bleed, would have to wait for treatment.
In a previous case, a lawyer for Pennsylvania’s prison system wrote:
“There is simply not enough money to treat every individual (with chronic Hepatitis C). (It) would cost approximately $600 million. Such an expense would effectively cripple the department.”
Abu-Jamal previously won a court order that required the prison system to treat his condition. His lawyer, Bret Grote, said the treatment was successful. The recent court decision concerns a lawsuit Abu-Jamal filed in 2017 that alleges the original denial of his hepatitis C treatment violated his 8th Amendment protection from cruel and unusual punishment. The decision means that Corrections Department employees are not immune to being sued for their initial decision to deny Abu-Jamal treatment.