Some family members of people diagnosed with mental illnesses are lobbying to give judges the power to overturn decisions by mental health professionals who do not think people need involuntary treatment, reported the Daily Astorian and K5 News.
“Joel’s Law” was already unanimously passed by the Washington State House last year in a different version before being stalled in the Senate, and is now before the House again. It would allow family members to apply for a judicial review of any decision by a mental health professional not to detain and forcibly treat someone.
The bill was conceived and is being pushed by Doug and Nancy Reuter, whose 28-year-old son Joel was killed in a police shooting. “The parents had tried unsuccessfully to get Joel committed for weeks,” reported the Seattle Times.
Nancy Reuter told the Astorian that many mental health professionals had repeatedly said that Joel was “not dangerous enough” to be committed. Doug Reuter said that mental health professionals “are out of control. They answer to nobody. They unilaterally decide who gets help.” The Reuters said they felt that “having a judge weigh in on those decisions would save lives.”
When the bill was opposed by some mental health professionals and mental health advocacy organizations during last year’s House debates, some politicians were surprised. “I got to tell you, I’m shocked that we’ve got advocates of mental-health organizations here opposing this bill that would make it easier to get those in need of treatment into treatment,” state Rep. Jay Rodne, R-North Bend said, according to the Times. “I mean, I expected that from the criminal-defense bar, but from the mental-health professionals — I am shocked.”
According to K5 News, the American Civil Liberties Union worries some families could abuse the law. “We’ve made it easier and easier to commit people,” Shankar Narayan of the ACLU told K5. “We should remember there is a human being here, a mentally ill person, whose interest may not be aligned with the family members.”
Correction and update January 30, 2015: This article was corrected to reflect the fact that there was an earlier version of the bill last year that passed in the House and then stalled in the Senate, and a different version this year. The House passed the most recent version on January 30th, 2015, according to the Daily Astorian.
Families support judicial review of mental health decisions (Daily Astorian, January 19, 2015)
‘Joel’s Law’ supporters testify about struggles finding help for mentally ill (K5 News, January 19, 2015)
State House unanimously passes ‘Joel’s Law’; cost concerns remain (Seattle Times, February 14, 2014)
Some mental-health officials oppose commitment bill (Seattle Times, February 3, 2014)
House passes judicial review of mental health decisions (Daily Astorian, January 29, 2015)