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For week ended May 23, 1999 Posted 4 Jun 1999

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Violent crimes raise idea of forced treatment for mentally ill

Summarized by Rosemary Pollock

Violent crimes raise idea of forced treatment for mentally ill
(Long Island) NY Newsday (AP) 22May99 L1
Violent crimes raise idea of forced treatment for mentally ill

NEW YORK -- Court-ordered outpatient commmitment is the law in nearly 35 states and will soon be considered by New York to be the rule and not the exception. A mandatory treatment bill could force mentally ill patients to take drugs needed to manage manic depression and personality disorders such as schizophrenia. Opponents say court-ordered treatment is short-sighted and at worst a violation of civil liberties. Others argue that forcing people into treatment could keep them from hurting others.

Kim Webdale, 34 is the sister of the woman who was pushed in front of the subway in January. "I think this will not only make it safer for society... I think it's a compassionate bill for the metally ill, " she said. Believing her sister might still be alive if Andrew Goldstein, a schizophrenic man who fatally pushed Kendra Webdale, 32, in front of a subway, Webdale said, "There are a lot of things we can do in the community to help people, but we have to get them medication so they can participate."

Ira Burnim, legal director at the Judge David Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law in Washington, D.C. feels people leaving mental hospitals "are walking out into a void." "You're put on meds, you're doing fine, but there's no services available for you once you walk out the door."

With a recent study showing that fewer than half of the 2 million Americans who suffer with schizophrenia, Fred Frese, a Case Western Reserve University psychologist argues for the bill. He was forcibly hospitalized for schizophrenia and doesn't care to think of what would have happened if he had not gotten help. "I probably would not be here," he said. "When you go protecting someone's right to not be treated, and within a short time, they go and commit suicide or have some kind of serious accident, you're not being responsible."

Advocates, psychiatarists and the mentally ill are divided over the New York proposals. Robin Simon, 42, an ex-mental patient who now works as a mental health counselor has vivid memories of the horrors of being confined to straitjackes and padded rooms while being forced to accept drugs. "It gives me a sick feeling in my stomach to think that some people could go through what I went through, or even worse," she says. "You're taking away their voice to say, 'No, I don't want to have this.'"

Those who opppose out patient commitment " should live in my shoes," says Jay Oliver Sax. He is a 53-year-old who has recovered from schizophrenia and depression and is grateful for the authorities who forced him into treatment. "I was hanging around in Penn Station.... licking the floor, literally, at 4 o'clock in the morning," he recalls. "I was ill." "I know if I'm in that kind of position I would require that kind of help. Some people need it."

With a series of horrifying crimes in recent history, the emotional debate continues. Two police officers killed at the U.S. Capitol, a fatal shooting spree at the Mormon church's genealogical library in Salt Lake City, and a New York woman who was pushed in front of a subway train are only a few of the many crimes that have been commited by mentally ill people.

Court orders can be hard to enforce with states varying in how to force patients to comply. Proponnents see court orders as a tool that could enable families and doctors to help patients whose illness clouds their judgement.

Copyright 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001 Kent Larsen · Privacy Information