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December 19, 2002


CCLE Argues Freedom of Thought in Landmark US Supreme Court Case

The image of a government agent, with a syringe filled with mind-altering drugs in hand, advancing on an unwilling and helpless citizen is one of the darker motifs in modern science fiction. But this very issue is facing the US Supreme Court in a current case (Sell v. U.S., No. 02-5664) briefed by the parties today.

In the Sell case, which some have called the “Roe v. Wade of the mind,” the CCLE field an amicus curiae brief today, arguing that the First Amendment guarantees freedom of thought and should be read to protect St. Louis dentist, Dr. Charles Thomas Sell, a man the government is seeking to forcibly drug with antipsychotic medication in order to make him competent to stand trial.

According to Richard Glen Boire, legal counsel for the Center for Cognitive Liberty & Ethics (CCLE), "what's happening to Dr. Sell is unconscionable. He is under no obligation to think the way the government wants him to think, and the government should not be permitted to drug him against his will." 

The CCLE argues that the freedom of thought at stake in this case is comparable to the reproductive freedom granted to women by the Roe v. Wade decision. “Where Roe v. Wade established fundamental rights with regard to the body," notes Boire, “this case will decide what protections a person has over his or her own mind and thought processes.” 

Boire notes that this is also a case of "cognitive censorship." 

"The First Amendment," Boire says, " not only protects speech, it also protects the underlying thoughts that lead to speech. What good is free speech without free thought?"

Boire also notes that the government's insistence that Dr. Sell can be forcibly administered mind-altering drugs, is diametrically opposed to the government's "just say no" policy with respect to other mind-altering drugs. 

"On the one hand the government is bent on creating a "Drug Free America," while on the other hand it forces a citizen to take mind-altering drugs despite his repeated objection," said Mr. Boire. "The only thing consistent here is the government's astonishingly arrogant assertion that it has the power to determine which types of thinking are allowed and which it can prohibit or coerce." 

Oral argument is expected to occur in February or March 2003. 

The CCLE’s Supreme Court legal brief and other materials concerning Dr. Sell’s case (including this news release), are available online at:

Contact Information:

Heidi Lypps Center for Cognitive Liberty & Ethics
E-mail:, Telephone/Fax: 1-530-750-7912

The Center for Cognitive Liberty & Ethics is nonprofit law and policy center working in the public interest to foster cognitive liberty—the right of each individual to think independently, and to use the full spectrum of his or her mind. The CCLE encourages social policies that respect and protect the full potential and autonomy of the human intellect. For more information on our organization and the issues we investigate, visit the CCLE’s Web site at

Read the CCLE's amicus brief to the Supreme Court. (pdf) 

Review further materials concerning the Dr. Sell case

See Also:

CCLE "Neuroethics Project"

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