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Detainee dies of cancer after treatment denied

March 14, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
The family of a now-deceased illegal immigrant who said he was denied medical care for cancer can sue the federal government for damages, a federal judge ruled, calling the allegations "beyond cruel and unusual" punishment. Yanira Castaneda wonders if her brother would he be alive today if he had received the medical treatment he needed.

"I think they could of done a little bit better, even a dog gets treated good," says Yanira Castaneda, sister.

Her brother Francisco Castaneda spent eight months in jail for possession of methamphetamines. When officials realized that he was in the country illegally he was sent to an immigration facility. That is when doctors believed he had penile cancer.

They recommended a biopsy and treatment. His sister says that the government would not do it. The only type of medicine Castaneda received was ibuprofen.

"That was frustrating for him. He would call me crying and saying that he needed help. He knew he needed help. He knew he was sick. There was nothing he could do about it, nobody was listening to him," said Yanira Castaneda.

Records show for 11 months doctors continued to ask for treatment, but the government wouldn't send him to the hospital because a biopsy is considered an elective treatment.

"The diagnosis of penile cancer only comes by way of a biopsy. So a biopsy is absolutely essential. If diagnosed early penile cancer is almost always is curable. If the disease is allowed to spread it is universally fatal, " said Dr. Mark Kawachi, City of Hope.

Castaneda's family says that he was very ill when he was abruptly released from jail. He went to see doctors of his own , but by then it was to late.

Castaneda died Feb. 26 at age 36. Before he died he told his story at a congressional hearing chaired by Rep. Zoe Lofgren of San Jose.

"I was stunned by the neglect. Neglect is to small of a word to use. It was an outrageous lack of care," said Rep. Lofgren.

A judge this week issued a stinging ruling against the government. The federal judge called the allegations "beyond cruel and unusual" punishment.

He said that the family can sue for damages.

Yanira Castaneda says that they are fighting for other inmates as well.

"He use to tell me about inmates. They use to call him to remind him not to forget about them. They would remind him to tell their story and not to forget what they needed. He was trying to fight for them, not just for himself," said Castaneda.

An ICE spokeswoman said she could not comment on the case, but said the agency spent nearly $100 million in fiscal 2007 on medical, dental and psychiatric care for detainees.

A U.S. attorney's office spokesman said the government might appeal.

 

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