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  • Writer's pictureAntonio Gonzales

Peltier family accuses U.S. government of medical neglect


15 November 2010

Contact: Delaney Bruce, Legal Team Liaison, Leonard Peltier Defense Offense Committee, PO Box 7488, Fargo, ND 58106, USA; Telephone: 1-701-235-2206;

Peltier family accuses U.S. government of medical neglect

“A man dies from prostate cancer every 16 minutes in this country. Why does my brother have to wait over a year to receive even a diagnosis?”

Native American activist Leonard Peltier, who maintains his innocence, was wrongfully convicted in connection with the shooting deaths of two agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 1977. Imprisoned for 35 years—currently at the federal prison in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania—Peltier has been designated a political prisoner by Amnesty International. Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, 55 Members of Congress and others—including a judge who sat as a member of the court in two of Peltier’s appeals—have all called for his immediate release. Widely recognized for his humanitarian works and a six-time Nobel Prize nominee, Peltier also is an accomplished author and painter.

Sister Betty Solano says Peltier began exhibiting symptoms commonly attributed to prostate cancer over a year ago. His age (he is 66 years old) and family history are risk factors for the disease. Pressured by Peltier’s attorneys, the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) ran standard blood tests in June. Peltier received the results last week, over four months later. A physician only now says a biopsy is needed to make a diagnosis.

Prostate cancer affects 1 in 6 men in the United States. Medical experts agree that the cure rate for prostate cancer is high, but only if detected early.

Even if Peltier doesn’t have cancer, the symptoms indicate a serious medical condition and one that could lead to serious complications if left untreated.

A physician who conducted an independent review of Peltier’s medical records in 2000 concluded that Peltier’s overall medical treatment is below a reasonable standard of care. Decades ago, Peltier suffered a stroke which left him nearly blind in one eye—damage physicians say could have been prevented had he been treated sooner. In the 1990s, there was international outrage after the BOP botched surgeries to correct a jaw problem. Only then was Peltier transferred to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota for treatment. Subsequent procedures were recommended by a specialist, but never performed by the BOP.

“Last week, at the United Nations, the United States claimed that it is unequivocally committed to the humane treatment of all individuals in detention, including criminal detention. Delaying tests, avoiding a diagnosis, and preventing proper medical treatment for a potentially life threatening disease is not humane by anyone’s definition,” a spokesperson for the Leonard Peltier Defense Offense Committee said.

“Unfortunately, this situation isn’t unique to Mr. Peltier. Many U.S. prisoners die prematurely because treatment is delayed or denied.”

Family members want the government to release Peltier who was denied parole in 2009. His North Dakota tribe has twice passed a resolution asking the government to transfer Peltier into their custody. Peltier’s many supporters believe his release from prison is the only way Peltier will receive humane treatment.

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