Saturday, January 22, 2011

Bad Craziness About the Insane

William Galston begins his piece quite adequately with a warning that his prescription for involuntary commitment will make civil libertarians unhappy.

He is correct.

This of course, is in response to the shooting in Tucson and Galston is certainly not alone in advocating for these reforms:

We need legal reform to shift the balance in favor of protecting the community, especially against those who are armed and deranged. This means two changes in particular. First, those who acquire credible evidence of an individual’s mental disturbance should be required to report it to both law enforcement authorities and the courts, and the legal jeopardy for failing to do so should be tough enough to ensure compliance. Parents, school authorities, and other involved parties should be made to understand that they have responsibilities to the community as a whole, not just to family members or to their own student body. While embarrassment and reluctance to get involved are understandable sentiments, they should not be allowed to drive conduct when the public safety is at stake. We’re not necessarily cramming these measures down anyone’s throat: I’ve known many families who were desperate for laws that would help them do what they knew needed to be done for their adult children, and many college administrators who felt that their hands were tied.

Second, the law should no longer require, as a condition of involuntary incarceration, that seriously disturbed individuals constitute a danger to themselves or others, let alone a “substantial” or “imminent” danger, as many states do. A delusional loss of contact with reality should be enough to trigger a process that starts with multiple offers of voluntary assistance and ends with involuntary treatment, including commitment if necessary. How many more mass murders and assassinations do we need before we understand that the rights-based hyper-individualism of our laws governing mental illness is endangering the security of our community and the functioning of our democracy?

To begin with, I really don't understand how insisting that people actually represent a danger to themselves or or others in order to commit them represents a threat to the "functioning of democracy". Is it keeping people from voting somehow? There's really no reasonable way to respond to a claim like that. I'm just going to assume that he wanted to end his piece with a bang so I'll leave it at that.

More significant are the reforms that he advocates. What he's arguing for is that people face criminal liability for not doing something. That should always be worrisome but in his case, he's specifically pushing to prosecute people that fail to perform a diagnostic that typically is only accepted when performed by clinicians with advanced degrees. His plan envisions a world where every parent with a weird teenager, may very well be placing themselves in legal jeopardy if they fail to report their child's eccentricities to the police for questioning.

Second of all, his idea of a "process that starts with multiple offers of voluntary assistance and ends with involuntary treatment, including commitment if necessary" has nothing voluntary about it. Basically he's saying "You can choose whether or not to receive help unless you choose not to." He's suggesting that a population of citizens be stripped not only of their liberty (in the event that they are in fact committed), but also of their sovereignty over their own bodies (in the event they are compelled to take medications against their will). And he's suggesting this course of action regardless of whether or not the person presents any discernible threat.

In closing he questions "How many more mass murders and assassinations do we need"? Well, clearly none. However, how many more mass murders and assassinations are on tap for the foreseeable future? A significant element to the horror of the Tucson tragedy is these occurrences are so infrequent. Deranged killers are definitively rare. Stripping a segment of the population of their rights and coercing parents, teachers and even associates to monitor and report peoples behavior is not the solution.

UPDATE: I meant to include this when I first put this post together: Here are some stories of people that have been involuntarily committed.

No comments:

Post a Comment