Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords made her first public appearance last week when she joined her husband at the Houston Space Center as he received the Space Flight Medal. Giffords, who is still recovering from the brain injury she sustained from a gunshot wound to the head, will continue therapy indefinitely. Her doctors will advise her and her family what protocol to take, and she will be able to determine, after counseling with her loved ones, which course of action will be best for her recovery. The man who shot her does not have that option.
Jared Loughner was recently ordered to continue his anti-psychotic medications against his will. His trial, for 49 separate charges relating injuries sustained by 13 people and the death of six others, including U.S. District Court Judge John Roll and nine year old Christina Green, is on hold until the court orders him mentally competent to stand trial. At a recent hearing in San Diego, Loughner’s lawyers argued against the state and previous rulings allowing for forced medication of defendants. After they were made aware that Loughner had been medicated, they said, “The prison’s sole prerogative is to neutralize any danger. Yet here, the prison engaged instead in the error prone, multifaceted decision to treat mental illness and did so in a truncated, nonadversarial setting when it decided to forcibly medicate Mr. Loughner on the ostensible grounds of addressing dangerousness.”
Loughner had been found incompetent after being diagnosed with schizophrenia in May of this year. At only 22, the manifesto of his short life reads like a textbook case of any number of psychological problems: quit school young, smoked marijuana and drank, experienced drastic personality changes, engaged in extremist behaviors, became delusional and paranoid, and often acted in bizarre and abnormal ways, according to acquaintances. His lawyers are obviously against the ruling, and perhaps it is because they are afraid he may actually be able to stand trial and get the sentence the general public wants to impose, death.
Courts have previously ruled to allow the forcible medication of someone who poses a risk to themselves or others. Prison officials are reporting that Loughner is very disruptive and dangerous, and physically violent. And the law does allow for mandated medication in order to return someone to a state of competency so that they may participate in their own defense. But will that really accomplish anything?
This man was obvious not well when he committed those horrific acts back in January. He was probably in need of treatment long before that day. And even if he could comprehend what he was up against, could he really be held responsible for those acts? Did he have any idea of what he was doing if he was schizophrenic at the time of the crime? Unfortunately, he did not receive any sort of mental health diagnosis until long after the tragedy. And sadly, that is the case with many people. Dr. Arthur Caplan, Ph.D., director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania, recently wrote, “Medicating him against his will may make him understand what happened. But it does not show that he was sane on Jan. 8. If he was not, a life spent in a mental hospital trying to come to terms with the horror he caused may be the right punishment.”
But back to the point. Is it okay to medicate someone forcibly? I know from my own experience and research that certain medications can actually bring on agitation, aggression and even psychotic episodes. So if that is the case, who should make the determination to medicate? The prison doctors? The guards or staff? Or the courts? And what about the adverse physical side effects caused by many anti-psychotic medications? Are his lawyers just supposed to ignore the fact that although this man may hurt more people if not medicated, his own health may be at risk if he is? What a sticky wicket.
If he does have schizophrenia, the consequences of which may have already been realized, than it is imperative he be on medication. As a prisoner in a mental facility or any other correctional institution, he retains very few rights. He already has the right to three meals, a bed and a team of lawyers. So he loses his right to choose if he should take his medications. There are probably several thousand people with similar mental health challenges, sleeping under bridges right now that would gladly take free medication, a cot and three squares.
© Copyright 2011 by Jen Wilson. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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