Day By Day© by Chris Muir.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

What makes a compassionate society

Take two minutes to listen to this audio story about a hospital's fight to keep a senile patient under its care, rather than to allow him to act on his wish to leave. Then, close your eyes and take another couple of minutes to think about those homeless people suffering from severe mental illness who make it on their own on American streets. Keep in mind that many of them are so disabled by their illnesses that they're incapable of recognizing that institutional care would be an infinitely better option than sleeping outdoors and rooting through garbage for food. Interestingly, it was the plight of the mentally disabled homeless, more than anything else, that started my disaffection with the ACLU. Rightly or wrongly, I've always been under the impression that it was the ACLU, beginning in the 1960s, that were behind the movement to disinstitutionalize the mentally ill, if the latter rejected treatment -- it was a civil rights thing. In California the end result is that the mentally ill who reject care can be forced into treatment only if their condition is such that they're an imminent threat to themselves or to others -- and must bed released from treatment immediately upon the cessation of that urgent need scenario. The average paranoid schizophrenic, who can't hold a job, can't maintain a home, can't feed himself, talks to invisible beings, never bathes, is lice ridden, and walks down the streets in garments so filthy you can smell them blocks away, doesn't actually fall into this category. We wouldn't treat a 2 year old this way, although a two year old has exactly the same mental and physical capabilities as some of these more damaged individuals. Our legally mandated conduct with respect to the mentally ill is shocking, disgusting, and completely at odds with a humane society's obligations to those who truly are incapable of caring for themselves.