by Jack Bragen
Laura’s Law, the state legislation that enables the court system and county employees to force involuntary treatment, including forced medication, on people with mental health diagnoses, is spreading like cancer across California, county by county.
Since the passage of Proposition 63 (the Mental Health Services Act) in 2004, implementation of Laura’s Law has been approved in Contra Costa County, the City and County of San Francisco, Los Angeles County, Nevada County, Orange County, San Diego County, Placer County and Yolo County in California.
Those who promote this atrocity have discovered a way of spreading it by sweetening it with Proposition 63 funds, money originally intended to go toward mental health consumer groups, patients’ rights and self-help nonprofits.
Laura’s Law provides for dealing with those with mental illness via the criminal courts, in the absence of a mentally ill person having committed any offense. The presumption is that because you are mentally ill, you are about to go out and commit crimes; and since you are a threat to society, you must be protected from yourself.
Proponents of Laura’s Law claim that they are preventing crime and helping mentally ill people get treatment they need. However, this law provides for court-ordered, involuntary treatment in cases in which a mentally ill person has done nothing wrong, other than possibly not taking psychiatric medication.
The stated premise is that the mentally ill person, due to the disease, lacks the insight that they are ill. While this premise may be accurate some of the time, Laura’s Law is a bad piece of legislation, and it was written in a space of hate toward mentally ill people.
This law was originally introduced as Assembly Bill 1421, and was passed by the California Legislature in 2002. It provides for court-ordered, involuntary outpatient mental health treatment, handled by county governments. The law is written such that county supervisors of the various counties must approve the usage of the law’s provisions.
Funding from Big Pharma
It is vastly supported by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), a nationwide advocacy group that receives the majority of its funding from pharmaceutical companies, because desperate parents have been brainwashed into believing it is a solution to problems of “noncompliance” of their offspring.
Although many persons with mental illness need more help than they are getting, Laura’s Law is not the solution. Furthermore, some people stand to gain a lot of profit from the usage of this law. It will sell a lot of medication, and it is a cost-cutting tool for cash-strapped counties with supervisors who are not inclined to adequately fund good mental health treatment. This law is also seen as a way of targeting people who have been considered nuisances but who aren’t necessarily harming anyone.
Although I am a “compliant” medication-taking mental health consumer, my emotional response to the spread of Laura’s Law is mostly that of fear. But also I feel outraged. I believe that this law will prevent persons with mental illness from making a good, lasting recovery.
For those of us who will likely need to take medications for the rest of our lives, Laura’s Law, because it uses force, disrupts an essential learning curve. When force is used, resentment is produced.
We have seen this time and time again throughout human history — force is bad in the present and past, and force will continue to be bad in the future. When force is used on people with chronic mental illness, it doesn’t give us the chance to sort things out and to learn from our own mistakes.
Crime against the human spirit
For those who could possibly get past their illness and create a recovery not dependent upon taking meds, the forced treatment of Laura’s Law is an appalling crime against the human spirit.
Many who have read what I have written may realize that my perspective is dichotomous. I believe that mental illnesses are actual biologically caused conditions and should be treated. However, I also believe there is a tremendous amount of unnecessary cruelty in the mental health treatment systems. I also believe that it is far better to teach by example rather than to try to force people to see it your way. This is why, while I believe mental illnesses require treatment, Laura’s Law is a grave mistake.
Over the years, I have been medicated, and I believe this has helped me. However, I realize that this is not everyone’s ideal path. There are some who would be better off weathering their mental illness rather than having medication forced on them. Moreover, for them, the “treatment” is far worse than the purported disease.
Laura’s Law is now receiving Proposition 63 funds. This is money that was originally intended to go toward consumer-run patients’ rights and self-help groups. Laura’s Law creates fear among us, even those who are cooperative with their treatment. We fear that we could be ordered by a judge to participate in what is termed “assisted outpatient treatment.” The word “assisted” is a nice way of saying the “treatment” is forced.
Laura’s Law criminalizes mental illness. It turns having a psychiatric diagnosis into a crime. When someone is accused of being mentally ill and “noncompliant,” they can be funneled into the criminal justice system immediately by means of Laura’s Law.
The only recourse of a “subject” is that of going to the public defender, going to a court hearing, and trying to prove that you do not need forced treatment under Laura’s Law. Someone with mental illness is guilty until proven innocent under this law. According to the text of Laura’s Law, the burden of proof is on the subject.
Laura’s Law does not provide any provision for making sure the treatment forced on people is done in a humane manner. It calls for “multidisciplinary teams of highly trained professionals,” but gives no definition of this. Anyone that has a pulse could be deemed a “highly trained professional” under Laura’s Law, because nowhere in the law is there a criteria for who can be on a “team” and who cannot.
10 problems of Laura’s Law
The problems with Laura’s Law include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Laura’s Law takes money away from the patients’ rights organizations by ripping off Proposition 63 funds. The original intention behind Prop 63 was partly to fund patient-run organizations.
- It creates fear among persons with psychiatric disabilities.
- It uses force to get people medicated; when force enters the equation, resentment is produced and this interferes with the learning curve of the patient gaining insight into his or her condition.
- It lacks an adequate system of checks and balances that would assure people are not treated cruelly or incompetently.
- It is a way to target those who county officials believe to be troublemakers.
- It is a way to sell drugs and tobacco to maintain the profits of the giant pharmaceutical and tobacco companies.
- It violates basic human rights.
- It entangles people who have committed no crime in the criminal justice system.
- Statistics given probably do not follow people over a period of years or even decades.
- Statistics cited by proponents of Laura’s Law are questionable, and they are often furnished in the absence of any sort of context.
It feels almost hopeless to continue speaking out against Laura’s Law, yet I cannot remain silent. One of my goals is to raise awareness about mental illness, as well as the hardships of living in our society with a mental health diagnosis. I hope that people will think more deeply about this subject, so that we at the least can have a more balanced dialogue, a dialogue in which the voices of mental health consumers have been largely missing.