A government requirement that people with severe mental illnesses take their medication or face involuntary hospitalization has a disquieting "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest" feel to it and raises civil liberties issues. On a larger scale, however, this is a community safety issue, which is why Massachusetts should join 45 other states in passing such a law.
The proposed law, which was the subject of a hearing on Beacon Hill on Tuesday, would reduce violence and homelessness and lessen the burden on the prison system, according to the Treatment Advocacy Center of Virginia. The center asserted to the Boston Globe that nearly a quarter of the men and half of the women in state prisons are there because of underlying mental health issues. The proposed law moved front and center when the Globe reported that Edwin Alemany, who was charged this summer with abducting and murdering 24-year-old Amy Lord of South Boston, had told acquaintances before the incident that he had stopped taking the anti-psychotic and antidepression medication prescribed to him by the state Department of Youth Services.
Advocates for the mentally ill argue that such a law would be an abridgment of their rights, although it could be argued, as it is by the Advocacy Center, that the law would assure that the mentally ill get the medication they need to function within society by making it a legal requirement. States must first consider the greater good of residents who could become victims of those who are not taking their prescribed medication. Connecticut, like Massachusetts, is one of five states without such a law, but that may change following the school massacre last December in Newtown by an armed man who is thought to have had emotional issues.
Not everyone who kills someone with a gun is mentally ill, of course, but in the absence of stricter federal gun violence laws despite regular evidence of their need (a 12-year-old boy in Nevada apparently brought a gun from home to kill a teacher Monday before killing himself in the latest needless incident) other measures must be taken to protect the public. Given that the mentally ill can too easily get access to guns, then laws should be passed to at least require that they take medication prescribed to prevent them from wanting to behave violently.