By Dr David Laing Dawson
Let me give a little background to my previous blog on Vince Li.
I have had many patients over the years (50 years now, actually) who have done well with treatment, who recover, who have insight, who promise to stay on their medication. They are good people. I like them. We become friends. With some it can involve an ongoing dialogue about needing or not needing to stay on medication.
But at some point most of them stop their medication, at least once. Their lives have changed. They have been well for 20 years. They meet a family doc who doesn’t understand why they are still taking Olanzapine. They fall in love. They move. They get ill in some other way. The pharmacy changes hands. Their doctor moves. They come under the influence of one of any number of cults, including Scientology. They read the bullshit of the anti-psychiatry crowd, or the homeopaths. Someone offers them cocaine.
So at some point most of them stop their medication at least once.
With psychotic illness the illness returns, and it always returns in the same way. With some my relationship is good enough that I can cajole them into going back on their medication. With some I have had to spend hours offering it while my patient tries to decide if I am a friend or the devil. With others it means a complete relapse and re-hospitalization.
And in most cases, the only ones hurt by this relapse are my patient and his or her family. That is no small thing though. The social, emotional, vocational, educational, and sense- of-self cost is huge. Often a year or more of progress is lost.
Lack of insight may be a good predictor of human behaviour, but insight itself is not. An equally poor predictor of future behaviour is remorse, or a display of remorse. “Good behaviour, model patient or prisoner” has also little to do with what will happen in a different context five years from now. I will agree, however, that a good support system is a good predictor, but we need that support system in place for 40 years.
We clinicians are further hampered by our natural empathy, our natural sympathy that flows toward anyone nearby. It is not special; it is just human. At least twice a week during commercials I see on the television screen an emaciated fly-covered child. I get up and refill my glass. But should that child and his mother be in the room with me, my response would be quite different. Hence, as I have seen many times with CCRB cases over the years, the staff actually caring for and treating the patient are very poor at predicting future behaviour.
Now, I have not examined Mr. Li. It is possible he had a psychotic episode that will never reoccur. In my 50 years experience I know this to be only possible if the initial psychosis was caused by a brain injury, a stroke, toxic substances, or withdrawal from toxic substances, or very severe acute trauma within the time-frame of the psychosis. But from what I have read Mr. Li developed a schizophrenic illness with hallucinations and the specific delusion that resulted in a very specific horrendous crime.
So, from my 50 years of experience, I would say the people who know Mr. Li, who have spent time with him, are the last people who should be making predictions of future behaviour. Secondly, insight, remorse, promises, even absolute statements of conviction are not good predictors of distant future behaviour.
We know this man, when well, is a very nice man, and could be a good citizen of any community. We also know when ill he is capable of committing a horrendous crime.
Would it not be reasonable to use the tools we have to keep him well for the next 40 plus years? To protect Mr. Li and any future community in which he resides? They are not overly constrictive or intrusive considering the possible consequences of a relapse.
By allowing even a remote chance of a repeated homicide by Mr. Li you are doing everyone else diagnosed with a psychotic illness a great disservice.