Laura’s Law: Mandating Psychiatric Treatment

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laurawilcox

Image courtesy of Laura Wilcox Memorial Dedication

Laura Wilcox (pictured) was among three people killed by Scott Thorpe, a mentally ill patient who had resisted treatment, constituting one tragedy arising from untreated mental illness. Laura’s Law, named for Wilcox, is a California law allowing counties to mandate outpatient treatment to individuals who meet stringent requirements: those unable to function in the community without care, with history of hospitalization, jail, or violence related to mental illness. Initially enacted only by a few counties, its use is expanding.

Police Chief’s Associations, National Alliance on Mental Illness, and California Psychiatric Association support the law based on protecting the public, reducing violent crime, and providing treatment to those without (cognitive or material) resources. The law stands to prevent future violence, and treatment is mandated only to those who cannot safely survive in the community without help. Advocacy groups like Mental Health Clients Network consider it coercive, forcing treatment on the unwilling.

Careful balance is struck in addressing individual rights. Counties don’t arbitrarily mandate treatment. There are few unwilling participants: in Orange County, for example, all those referred based on the law entered treatment voluntarily. Advocates reference mutual benefits of the law: protection for the public, and treatment those in need). Enactment of the law contributes to reductions in outcomes such as violent crime, suicide, and incarceration.

I support maintaining and implementing Laura’s Law in all counties. Although controlling personal choice is rocky territory, there are isolated situations in which public health may take precedence over individual choice. Because requirements for mandating treatment are extremely strict, and the law benefits both the public (bystanders) or potential victims, as well as those with severe mental illness, giving California counties the option to mandate treatment in rare circumstances is a positive step in promoting public health.

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