Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Freezing with his rights on

As reported by WLBZ of Bangor, Reid Emery, a 61 year old man, was released from the Down East Community Hospital in Machias Maine last Tuesday night. The following morning, he was found dead in a snowdrift just a few hundred feet from the hospital’s entrance.

When Mr. Emery walked out of the hospital, he was reportedly delusional. He was wearing a light jacket and slippers. He left against the advice of doctors. And he walked out into the height of a brutal January snowstorm. Weather records for East Machias show that the low temperature that night dropped to four degrees.

Nevertheless, a hospital administrator, Ann Marie Knowles, explained that there was nothing that could be done to stop Mr. Emery. “Patients have the right to leave against medical advice.”

In Maine, a person may be admitted on an emergency basis for the treatment of mental illness upon a showing that this person suffers from a mental illness and poses a likelihood of serious harm to himself or others.

We know no details about Mr. Emery’s history of mental illness. We also do not know why hospital personnel deemed themselves unable to intervene on Mr. Emery’ behalf. What we do know is that hospital personnel did nothing to stop an elderly, delusional, and under clothed man from stepping out into subfreezing temperatures and a raging snowstorm.

Any caring and reasonable person should have been motivated under these circumstances to take some action to intervene on behalf of Mr. Emery. Instead, we find a hospital trying to justify the practices and procedures that resulted in this tragic and unnecessary death. What is wrong with this picture?

At least those who champion the civil liberties of the mentally ill can take some comfort in knowing that Reid Emery froze to death with his rights on.

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