MENTAL HEALTH: State Senator Vows to Block Forced Treatment Bill
Senate President Pro Tem John Burton (D-San Francisco) said yesterday he will try to block an Assembly-passed measure that would expand treatment for severely mentally ill people against their will, the Los Angeles Times reports. One day after the state Assembly approved AB 1800 on a 53-16 vote, Burton said that involuntary treatment of patients will not happen and commissioned a study of the matter. He said, "Forced medication? I'm against it and it won't happen. It took many, many years to deal with that issue ... and I'm sure that we'll put (any revision) in for a long, long study to see what exactly should or shouldn't be done." Under the law proposed by Assemblywoman Helen Thomson (D-Davis), any person that a hearing officer deems "gravely disabled" could be committed to a mental health facility against his or her will for up to one year, with an option for early release if the individual agrees to continue treatment at home. A gravely disabled person is defined as someone who cannot "provide for food, clothing or shelter; is a danger to himself or others; faces an acute risk of physical or psychiatric harm unless he undergoes treatment and has been deteriorating for a 30-day period." The bill does allow individuals to contest forced treatment in court.
A Necessary Change?
Thomson's bill would alter the Lanterman-Petris-Short Act, which allows forced treatment only for a short period and only after a judge determined a patient's competency. But some say that law, passed 30 years ago and then hailed as "an advance in the humane care of mentally ill people," has prevented family members, police and psychiatrists from offering care to those who often do not recognize their own deterioration. However, opponents of Thomsen's measure, including civil libertarians, psychologists and several county mental health directors, argue that it could result in the incarceration of individuals who do not need or want treatment (Morain, 6/2).