COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) _ A man diagnosed as having multiple personalities is trying to starve himself to death in his cell at a mental hospital, his attorney said Monday.

William Milligan was treated at Mount Carmel Medical Center for malnutrition, said Gail Moaney, a spokeswoman at the hospital.

Milligan appeared emaciated from his 34-day fast, said Gary Schweikert, his attorney.

''There has been a dramatic drop in his weight, and he has told me that it is his purpose to die,'' Schweikart said. ''He would prefer to live, but not under the present circumstances.''

Milligan was acquitted by reason of insanity in 1978 of three rapes in the Ohio State University campus area and was the subject of a nationwide manhunt last year after escaping from the maximum-security Central Ohio Psychiatric Hospital.

Milligan, who was the subject of the book ''The Minds of Billy Milligan,'' has been diagnosed by doctors as having as many as 24 personalities.

WCMH-TV in Columbus reported Monday that Milligan's weight has dropped from 200 pounds to 154 pounds during his hunger strike.

Ms. Moaney confirmed that Milligan had been treated in the hospital's emergency room Friday and Sunday night.

''The doctors seemed to think he had been sneaking liquids while he was on the hunger strike, or he would have been in a lot worse shape than he was,'' she said. ''They believed it was serious enought to treat, but not serious enough to admit him.''

Schweikart said officials at the psychiatric hospital had told him that if Milligan's condition becomes life-threatening, they will seek a court order allowing them to force feed him.

Schweikart said he and lawyer Jim Kura, who also represents Milligan, had not decided what action they would take if such a situation occured.

''Billy's request to me has been to either represent him (in a right-to-die case) or help him find someone who will,'' Schweikart said.

Milligan escaped from the hospital July 4, and was apprehended by FBI agents Nov. 20 in a Key Biscayne, Fla., hotel bar.

Police in Bellingham, Wash., have said Milligan was a suspect in the Oct. 3 disappearance of Michael Madden, 33. Authorities believe Madden had been killed; his body has not been found.