“No matter how psychotic, that voice is still worthy of being heard.”

by Walter Olson on August 17, 2008

Thus Helen Bailey, an attorney with the government-funded Disability Rights Center in Augusta, Maine. But things didn’t work out so well in the case of violent schizophrenic William Bruce, who was released from Riverview Psychiatric Center in Augusta against the recommendations of his doctors but after urgings from patient advocates. Two months later he murdered his mother. The young Bruce, now penitent, is not really on board any more with the corps of public interest lawyers that had swung into action on his behalf:

“They helped me immensely with getting out of the hospital, so I was very happy,” he said. He later added, “The advocates didn’t protect me from myself, unfortunately.” …

While William believes patients deserve some protection, he said he understands his father’s fight to strengthen commitment and treatment laws. That fight took another turn last month, when Ms. Bailey and another attorney filed a lawsuit that could undermine portions of a law Joe [the father] supported. The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Maine, is directed at the law which makes it easier for hospitals to compel patients to take medication.

“There are times when people should be committed,” William said. “Institutions can really help. Medicine can help.”

“None of this would have happened if I had been medicated.”

(Elizabeth Bernstein and Nathan Koppel, “A Death in the Family”, Wall Street Journal, Aug. 16). The Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, whose heated response to the article is presumably expected any day now, can be found here.

More: A group called Treatment Advocacy Center is gathering horror stories about “experiences with federally funded Protection & Advocacy attorneys”.

{ 3 comments }

1 matt 08.17.08 at 6:18 pm

with all due respect to th mentaly ill, sometime peopl,e need to stay in the hospital till the doctor says its ok

2 Joe Bingham 08.18.08 at 10:13 am

I guess this means you’re not a Szaszian libertarian…

3 William Nuesslein 08.18.08 at 11:51 am

Commitment to a mental hospital is a filter with its type 1 and type 2 errors.

Type 1 is a false positive that is demonstrated in comment #2. Type 2 is a false negative that is demonstrated by the subject case and is regretted by comment #1.

Perfection is beyond us, so we can not make policy on particular cases. The emergence of psychoactive drugs a few decades ago was simply wonderful. People doomed to lifetime confinement could have independence. There is a consensus that we as a society short changed these patients with respect to follow up care, especially to ensuring the use of the drugs that freed them.

In my opinion, activists have created too many type 1 errors. Families with sick children have great difficulty in getting care for their children. matt in comment 1 is correct; there are mentally ill people who are best treated in hospitals. Mr Chau’s (the school shooter) case comes to mind.

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