Monday, September 19, 2005

When “rights” are wrong

We often hear the argument that individuals, no matter how severely their symptoms have affected them, have the “right” to make their own decisions regarding mental health care.

In Virginia, one woman’s “right to be ill” trampled her right to a life free from psychosis.

Ms. Fields, diagnosed with a severe mental illness, repeatedly refused to take her prescribed medication, stating that it made her feel that she was “sizzling,” and that the drugs were “foaming” through her skin. Even when faced with the prospect of the complete termination of her parental rights, Ms. Fields still did not believe that she needed mental health treatment and instead felt that she had a “hearing problem.”

In the protection of Ms. Fields’ right to refuse treatment, the Virginia courts terminated her parental rights, stating that she “remained unwilling to accept her mental illness and obtain treatment and medication that might permit her to parent successfully.”

What might the outcome of this case have been if Ms. Fields lived in a state like New York – a state that could have provided her with medication by court order (assisted outpatient treatment) until she was well enough to maintain her treatment voluntarily?