HealthLawProf Blog

Editor: Katharine Van Tassel
Concordia University School of Law

Monday, December 27, 2004

New Mental Health Law Article

A new article, "The New Neurobiology of Severe Psychiatric Disorders and ItsImplications for Laws Governing Involuntary Commitment and Treatment," by Fuller Torrey, The Treatment Advocacy Center; George Mason University - School of Law and Kenneth Kress, University of Iowa, College of Law discusses the new advances in neurobiology and how these new developments should impact our approach to involuntary commitment and treatment.

Abstract:     Every student of the law knows that changed circumstances are grounds for changing the law. Although changes in social relations are the most common form of changed circumstances, changes in beliefs about the world can also spur legal change. Among the changed beliefs about the world that can result in changed laws, is changes in scientific beliefs, including medical theory. This paper argues that such changes are now needed for laws governing the involuntary commitment and treatment of individuals with severe psychiatric disorders. Recent advances in the understanding of the neurobiology of these disorders have rendered obsolete many assumptions underlying past statutes and legal decisions. This is illustrated by using schizophrenia as an example and examining two influential situations: California's Lanterman-Petris-Short Act (1969) and Wisconsin's Lessard v. Schmidt decision (1972). It is concluded that laws governing involuntary commitment and treatment need to be updated to incorporate the current neurobiological understanding of severe psychiatric disorders. In reaching these conclusions, we consider moral justifications for our suggestions, and sketch changes in constitutional law, statutory law, and public policy that are generated by the arguments we deploy.

The full article is available here.

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