By Dan Morain.
A Senate committee significantly pared back legislation Tuesday intended to compel treatment for seriously mentally ill people who also suffer from severe physical illness.
The proposal: Assemblyman Miguel Santiago, a Democrat who represents Skid Row in downtown Los Angeles, is carrying legislation to authorize mental health professionals and physicians to seek court orders placing into conservatorship chronically mentally ill homeless people who are in failing physical health.
The ACLU and Disability Rights California protested that the bill would deny individuals their rights and increase the number of individuals who are forced into treatment.
Curtis Child of Disability Rights contends there are inadequate services for mentally ill people: “Why would we bring more people into a broken system?”
The Senate Judiciary Committee narrowed the bill by limiting it only to Los Angeles County and restricting it to individuals deemed to have six months to live.
Dr. Jonathan Sherin, LA County’s mental health director and one of the bill’s backers, said some people are so mentally ill that they do not know they’re sick. The Senate committee’s amendments reflect a lack of understanding of the problem, he said.
“We can’t have people who are unable to make decisions dying in the streets. … If you see someone who is going to die and the reason they are going to die is directly linked to the fact they have a mental illness, … get them off the street.”
Bottom line: The battle is part of the long-standing tension between some civil libertarians who believe mentally ill people have the right to live as they please, and others including mental health care professionals who believe there must be more assertive care for a small number of severely mentally ill people.