By Marvin Ross
The extraordinary measures being used to deal with the current pandemic have implications for involuntary committal procedures for the mentally ill. Thanks to my fellow advocate DJ Jaffe of the Mental Illness Policy Org for bringing this to my attention.
At the moment, for the good of society, our liberties are being infringed upon. We are being encouraged to stay at home and to keep a safe distance from others in order to slow the spread of the virus. I have had three theatre performances cancelled in April, I cannot go out to dinner nor can I go watch a flick at my local cinema. Non essential businesses are ordered to shut down and the government is threatening to invoke more stringent emergency wartime measures and the quarantine act if people do not comply.
According to the Canadian Quarantine Act, a person who presents a danger of spreading a communicable disease can be arrested without warrant and detained. This is not something that we have seen for a long time but when I was a kid, it was common to see houses with quarantine signs plastered on the front doors for those with scarlet fever or whooping cough – two diseases along with polio that have been pretty much eliminated thanks to vaccinations since my childhood.
Where are the civil libertarians who are so adamantly opposed to involuntary treatment for serious mental illness? I assume that they are quiet because they see the benefit of governments taking these extreme measures for the benefit of all.
But involuntary treatment is also carried out (not lightly) for the benefit of society and the ill person. If someone is a potential danger to themselves and/or to others because their brains are sick with a mental defect and that defect prevents them from understanding they are ill, they should be treated and confined until they are better. They deserve the right to be well and they should be treated.
People with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia are also incarcerated for their own good and protection. The civil libertarians and society also accept that because they know it is for the good of the patient. I have a friend, a PhD and a fine writer and editor, who has Alzheimer’s and is in a dementia care home. He is incapable of accepting his diagnosis and is locked in. He has never recovered from his hatred of the locked doors and cannot leave without being accompanied. Because he has gotten lost a few times, he has a GPS device on him so he can be tracked. Society accepts this as necessary but many do not accept the same for those with a serious mental illness.
Maybe it is time for them to reconsider their opposition and for us to change the term involuntary committal and treatment to quarantine.