MENTALLY ILL: Thomson to Propose Changes to Involuntary Commitment Law
Next month, Assemblywoman Helen Thomson (D-Davis) intends to propose altering the Lanterman-Petris-Short (LPS) Act -- established in 1969 to outline the conditions under which mentally ill people can be involuntarily hospitalized -- the San Diego Union-Tribune reports. In anticipation of Thomson's proposal, the California Alliance for the Mentally Ill, the Mental Health Association in California and the California Association of Mental Health Patients Rights Advocates have organized forums and compiled a report to explain LPS. As it stands, LPS specifies that only those "who are incapable of caring for themselves or who are an immediate danger to themselves or others" can be detained. Individuals who meet those criteria can be held for three days; a judicial hearing is required to hospitalize them for an additional two weeks and a separate hearing is necessary to force patients to take anti-psychotic or other medications. Although Thomson started with "meaningless editing" to LPS, she since "has made it known that she intends to amend the bill in January to achieve substantive reforms." She said, "I want to underline this a thousand times: We're not looking to deprive people of their rights. We're looking to provide a safety net for people who are out on the streets."
In a Nov. 10 memo, Thomson indicated "she wants to get people into treatment before they become dangerous or too disabled to care for themselves; combine the detention and medication hearings so that if a person is involuntarily hospitalized, it's certain that he or she also can be given medicine; and establish a framework for involuntary outpatient treatment." But exactly what she intends is not clear, as she has yet to outline a plan. In the meantime, supporters and opponents of the existing rules are sounding off. Karen Luton, executive director of the Mental Health Association in San Diego, said, "Reforming LPS should be a last resort. We haven't tried putting good programs in place and funding them to really help people with treatment and housing and other needs." Chuck Sosebee, whose clinical depression once had him suicidal and living on the streets, said, "The LPS system has recognized that people with mental illness have the right to due process. (But) it increases stigma because we have to wait to be in danger before we can get help." But Sosebee, who said he was saved by a mental health worker's intervention, added, "Involuntary treatment has been portrayed as an abridgement of people with mental illness' civil rights. There's nothing civil about allowing people to live on the streets in the name of protecting their civil rights." But Kim Lewis, director of the University of San Diego's patient advocacy program, questioned Thomson's idea of hospitalizing people before they become dangerous or incapable of caring for themselves. She said, "I'm not willing to throw out anybody's civil liberties simply on the idea that you might help one or two people sooner, when there are other ways to accomplish that" (Brooks, 12/5).