Without pointing fingers at any political party, how do we come together as a nation with a solution to the problem of the danger the mentally ill can potentially present to public safety, while maintaining some safeguards to individual rights?
It is clear that many states still have laws on the books that are “antiquated” with regard to dealing with the mentally ill and, if necessary, involuntarily committing those who are seen as a danger to themselves and/or others. For just one example, we can look to California’s Lanterman, Petris, Short Act (LPS Act). At the time it was written and signed into law 41 years ago, it was considered groundbreaking, and its intent was: [ul]
[li]To end the inappropriate, indefinite, and involuntary commitment of mentally disordered persons, people with developmental disabilities, and persons impaired by chronic alcoholism, and to eliminate legal disabilities;[/li]
[li] To provide prompt evaluation and treatment of persons with serious mental disorders or impaired by chronic alcoholism;[/li]
[li] To guarantee and protect public safety;[/li]
[li] To safeguard individual rights through judicial review;[/li]
[li] To provide individualized treatment, supervision, and placement services by a conservatorship program for gravely disabled persons;[/li]
[li] To encourage the full use of all existing agencies, professional personnel and public funds to accomplish these objectives and to prevent duplication of services and unnecessary expenditures;[/li]
[li] To protect mentally disordered persons and developmentally disabled persons from criminal acts.[/li][/ul] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lanterman–Petris–Short_Act
However, an in-depth, 3 year study conducted by medical professionals in the Los Angeles County Affiliates of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) and the Southern California Psychiatric Society found:
*"One of the difficulties in providing continuous treatment in the community is that since these illnesses are brain disorders that affect the ill person’s reasoning, some individuals do not recognize that they are ill or that the symptoms of their condition will respond to medication. Therefore, they do not seek treatment. If hospitalized, they may be unable or unwilling to comply with treatment plans after discharge. When this occurs, the person may require involuntary treatment to protect their lives and avoid tragic social and personal consequences.
The current California law regarding involuntary treatment for mental illness – the Lanterman, Petris, Short Act (LPS Act) – was written 30 years ago before scientific knowledge advanced recognizing mental illness as a physical disorder of the brain. Its purpose was to depopulate state hospitals. It was not full realized at the time of its enactment the structure and support some people with mental illness would require to successfully participate in community life. Furthermore, over the years the act has been piecemeal amended to make it one of the most adversarial, costly and difficult to administer involuntary treatment systems in the United States. Lack of clear definition and common misinterpretation of its provisions have caused inconsistent application from county to county.
The law must be revised to incorporate modern scientific knowledge regarding the nature and treatment of mental illness in the community and to streamline its efficiency in today’s managed care environment. "*
Questions for debate:
What safeguards should be put in place to protect the public from potentially deadly consequences from the mentally ill who may pose a threat?
What safeguards should accompany those solutions, that protect the individual’s right to “control their own bodies”?
What would laws with regard to access to weapons and access to medication and treatment look like, and how effective do you believe they would they be?