A reader writes:
I am chilled by your post about involuntary commitment quoting William Galston. I know there can be procedures, due process and guidelines - there already are. But strengthening them, quite frankly, frightens me.
A friend was involuntarily committed to a state facility because her mother lied to the judge.
She was denied medication, then improperly medicated, for epilepsy and bipolar disorder. She was humiliated and abused. My friend is a lawyer, a former law professor, and a victim's rights advocate. Even she was helpless.
I wish Jared Loughner had been treated or restrained too. But I'm unwilling to call for more government authority and encroachment on civil liberties until I'm convinced that existing law and procedures are insufficient.
There's a problem with involuntary commitment: it costs money. Publicly-funded money through higher taxes and whatnot. Didn't the United States see massive funding cuts to mental health services since the 1980s? How much, let us ask, does it cost to keep someone with schizophrenia locked up and medicated on a monthly basis?
There's a second problem with involuntary commitment: who gets to decide who gets involuntarily committed? Family members holding a grudge against an eccentric relative? A social worker from the local government? Just how bad does someone have to act in public to be determined a mentally unstable threat? Because while those like Loughner might be easy to spot, there have been those who seem perfectly normal or socially well-adjusted who just suddenly snap under stress, and we're never going to be able to spot those right away.
I recommend everyone listen to the "This American Life" episode entitled "Pro Se". It details the travails of a person who has tried to prove he is sane enough to be released, but everything he does to show his sanity is considered to be more evidence that he is insane. The individual is not particularly sympathetic, nor was I necessarily convinced that he was sane. But his story about his struggle does make me worry that we should have a better way to consider people able to be released before we start involuntarily committing more of them.