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Is the ACLU directly responsible for the massacre in Arizona?

Rights of the mentally ill have always been a special part of the ACLU’s agenda. In the past, treatment of the mentally ill was brutal and horrific, with the mentally ill confined to cages like animals and treated as subhuman. As research into mental illness gave us insight to the disease, we discovered that brain chemistry has much to do with the more catastrophic illnesses, such as paranoid schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Based on that excellent research, drugs have been developed to minimize the symptoms and make these illnesses manageable. That is, if the drugs are taken regularly, as prescribed. If they are not, symptoms can return and can even be made worse.

That’s not quite the way the ACLU sees it, however, and it has taken to the courts to make sure that those diagnosed with mental illness are not forced to take medication. From an ACLU of New Mexico press release:

August 6, 2008

CONTACT: (505) 266-5915 ext. 1003

ALBUQUERQUE— Yesterday, the New Mexico Court of Appeals struck down a city ordinance, affirming an earlier ruling, that would have empowered the city of Albuquerque to forcibly medicate people with mental illnesses. The Assisted Outpatient Treatment Law (AOT) conflicted with state laws that require patient consent before treatment.  This decision is a tremendous victory – upholding civil liberties in New Mexico.

Why did Albuquerque enact this law in the first place? The press release gives us an idea:

Protection and Advocacy System, Inc., the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico (ACLU), and The Law Offices of Peter Cubra initially sued the City in 2006, alleging that AOT subjects people with mental illness to potentially invasive treatment regimens based upon speculation that they might become dangerous.

By all accounts, speculation that the shooter in Arizona would become dangerous was widespread – and correct. The simple fact is that under the laws of that state, and others, thanks in large part to the ACLU, there was nothing that could be done – including making the shooter take medication or seek treatment. This is what the New Mexico law was trying to address, but in a less coercive form. The requirement was that those who were already receiving mental health services – there have been no reports that the Arizona shooter was under care – would need to continue with treatment and / or drugs. The press release explains:

AOT, also known as Kendra’s Law, grants judges the authority to require people receiving mental health services to take psychiatric drugs, regularly undergo psychiatric treatment, or both. Failure to comply could result in the patient’s being committed to an institution for up to 72 hours.

Why is it called Kendra’s law? From Wikipedia, cross-checked for accuracy through other sources:

In 1999, there was a series of incidents involving individuals with untreated mental illness becoming violent. In two similar assaults in the New York City subway a man diagnosed with schizophrenia pushed a person into the path of an oncoming train. Andrew Goldstein, age 29, while off medicines, pushed Kendra Webdale to her death in front of an oncoming NYC subway train. The law is named after her.

The law was modeled and signed into law in many states, has been challenged, and in both cases has been ruled constitutional. The challenge that was won by the ACLU in New Mexico was because Kendra’s Law conflicted with state law, but it certainly was not the reason given for the initiation of the lawsuit. Remember, the ACLU’s position is that

…AOT subjects people with mental illness to potentially invasive treatment regimens based upon speculation that they might become dangerous.

The reason that more stringent laws mandating involuntary hospitalization or treatment of those with severe mental illness have not been enacted is the real fear of a protracted lawsuit by the ACLU.

The ACLU’s argument is that people should be in charge of their own psychiatric treatment. The Catch-22 is that while off medication, many individuals with certain mental illnesses do not have the capacity to determine their own treatment. That has made no difference to the ACLU, whose lawsuits have been responsible for the mass deinstitutionalizing of the mentally ill, who, without the benefit of therapy and/or medication, regularly turn into the chronically homeless – and sometimes into violent criminals.

Which brings us back to Arizona. I am not a mental health professional. Here is what I believe, however, from simple research. The Arizona shooter was severely mentally ill. His writings, videos and postings indicate that he was convinced that the government was trying to brainwash us all, especially him. It is quite likely that he believes attempting to kill Representative Giffords was an act of self-defense, and that he would have tried to do so regardless of what political party she belonged to or what her stand on the issues were. The shooter was worried about “brainwashing” and being “forced to worship God” by the government – not about immigration or health care.

The debate here is not whether anything from the outside provoked the shooter – anyone who tries to pass off that meme with all that we now know is absolutely and clearly trying to score political points, nothing more. The issue is how far we can go as a society to protect ourselves from people who are clearly mentally ill, and how far the ACLU and the left will go in making sure we can’t.

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