Congress Looks to Revamp Mental Health System

Soon, Congress will hear testimony concerning the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act. Republican representative, Tim Murphy, from Pennsylvania, sponsored the bill, and, though many agree that the mental health care system requires revamping, some provisions in the bill have sparked controversy. Among the more controversial provisions is one that supports the increased use of involuntary outpatient treatment—via court-ordered therapy for “certain mentally ill people with a history of legal or other problems.” Detractors of this provision claim that it will erode trust in doctor-patient relationships, and that it presents a civil rights issue. However, 45 states have compelled treatment programs already, one of which is New York.

New York’s compelled treatment program, Kendra’s Law, was passed in 1999. Since the implementation of Kendra’s Law, studies show that the percentage of patients returning to the hospital or getting arrested has greatly decreased. The statistic is significant, as “about 350,000 Americans with a diagnosis of severe mental illness…are in state jails and prisons” and the availability of psychiatric beds meets only 10 percent of that need. 

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Potentially Dangerous Precedent Possible in Mississippi

Anti-fetal homicide laws were enacted originally to protect mothers of unborn children against violent acts. Yet, in reality, “they’ve led to disproportionate prosecution against African American women who suffer miscarriages.” An ongoing case in Mississippi could set a dangerous precedent with regard to the criminalization of pregnant women for their purportedly reckless acts.  Rennie Gibbs was charged with the murder of her unborn child after it was stillborn when she was 16 years old. Gibbs is being prosecuted for “depraved heart murder” because the autopsy showed that Gibbs had used cocaine during her pregnancy—but the cause of death was originally attributed to the umbilical cord being wrapped around the infant’s neck. That cause of death was never ruled out.

Read more here and here.

Bitter Battle Rages over Continuing Life Support for Brooklyn Woman

A bitter court battle is raging over whether an elderly Brooklyn woman should continue to be kept alive. Sylvia Sodden, 78, is still on life support, even though her original health care proxy agreed to its removal. In 2011, Sodden appointed her godson, Joe Arrigo, as her health care proxy. Arrigo is Catholic, and states that Sodden converted from Orthodox Judaism to Catholicism when she was 20 years old. He states also that Sodden did not want to be on life support, and that “she didn’t want to end up like this.” He consulted with two priests prior to making the decision to remove life support.

 However, on March 18, 2014 a Brooklyn Supreme Court Judge determined that Esther Feigenbaum, Sodden’s sister, would replace Arrigo as Sodden’s health care proxy. Feigenbaum claims that Sodden never converted, and that shutting down life support is “anathema to Orthodox Jewish belief.” The Court indicated that part of its decision to divest Arrigo of his role as health care proxy rested on the fact that Arrigo was absent from Court on the day of the proceedings. Arrigo maintains that he did not know he was supposed to appear.

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Approximately 50% of Americans Believe Health Conspiracy Theories

JAMA Internal Medicine published a research letter by authors J. Eric Oliver, PhD and Thomas Wood, MA, which indicates that almost half of the nation believes in at least one health conspiracy. For example, thirty-seven percent of Americans believe that the Food and Drug Administration is concealing natural cures for cancer in response to industry pressure from pharmaceutical companies. The authors conducted an online survey of 1,351 adults; the survey posited four health conspiracy theories. Forty-nine percent of those polled indicated that they believe at least one of the proposed theories, and eighteen percent believe in at least three. According to Oliver, the takeaway from the survey “is that people who embrace these conspiracies are very suspicious of traditional evidence-based medicine.

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Doctor Argues for Measured Paternalism

Dr. Sandeep Jauhar, a cardiologist, offers anecdotal evidence in support of his argument that even though autonomy is, and should be, medicine’s guiding principle, paternalism has its place. The principle of autonomy in medicine encompasses a patient’s right to direct care his or her care, and requires the doctor to fully inform the patient regarding medical treatment. Dr. Jauhar reflects on his early belief that autonomy was “an absolute good, an ethical imperative that trumped all others.” After some years practicing medicine, his belief has changed.

Dr. Jauhar has come to believe that “no ethic in medicine is absolute.” Though the consequences of a breach of trust between a physician and a patient are severe, the consequences of full disclosure can be adversarial to the doctor’s duty to select the best course of treatment for his or her patients. However, Dr. Jauhar states that if a doctor believes that a paternalistic approach is necessary to a patient’s care, a soft approach is most appropriate. He describes hard paternalism as “coercive,” while soft paternalism “involves negotiation.”

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Montreal Hospitals Required to Suggest that Off-Island Patients Get Treated “Closer to Their Homes”

Montreal’s Health and Social Service Agency requires doctors to “inform off-island patients about treatments available closer to their homes.” Montreal patients, off-island or otherwise, have the right to be treated wherever they wish. However, the agency claims that, by suggesting that off-island patients be treated closer to their homes, the policy conserves the resources of Montreal’s hospitals. Some claim that the policy may confuse patients, and may even discriminate against patients who travel in order to receive specialized care.

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Assisted Suicide Case Dismissed: Pennsylvania v. Mancini

A nurse named Barbara Mancini was accused of homicide in 2013. Allegedly, she handed her father a bottle of morphine with the intent to assist in his suicide. Her father, Joseph Yourshaw, 93 years old, suffered from end stage renal disease and was in home hospice.  However, the case has been dismissed. Judge Jacqueline Russell stated in her decision that the Pennsylvania Attorney General did not prove that Ms. Mancini gave Mr. Yourshaw the morphine with the intent to assist in his suicide, and that Ms. Mancini could have intended solely to alleviate his suffering. Some believe that though assisted suicide is legal in five states only, this decision “is the latest in a series of recent developments signaling the reluctance of courts” and legislatures to criminalize medical treatment that “may hasten death.”

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UPDATE: Man Forced to Undergo 3 Enemas and Colonoscopy by Police

David Eckert, from Hidalgo County, New Mexico, was subjected to numerous, highly invasive procedures, because police suspected him of hiding drugs in his rectum. Mr. Eckert had been convicted of methamphetamine possession in 2008, and the police suspected his continued involvement with drugs. However, the officers who searched both Mr. Eckert’s person and his vehicle, after pulling him over for a traffic violation, found neither drugs, nor weapons. One officer indicated that Mr. Eckert held himself in an “erect” position, and “kept his legs together,” which led the officers to assume that Mr. Eckert held drugs within him.

 After a local hospital refused forcibly to search Mr. Eckert, he was transported to the Gila Regional Medical Center (GRMC), 50 miles away. At GRMC, Mr. Eckert was subjected to two rectal exams, three enemas, forced bowel movements in front of officers and nurses, x-rays, and a colonoscopy performed under anesthesia. However, each search was fruitless. Mr. Eckert received a bill from the hospital for $6,000. Mr. Eckert filed suit against the hospital, and the parties settled for $1.6 million.

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VT Bill Streamlines Involuntary Commitment Process, But May Not Protect Privacy

The bill to streamline the involuntary commitment process for mental health patients in Vermont is not finished yet. However, some are concerned that the bill does not sufficiently protect the rights of patients committed involuntarily under the new, streamlined process. The head of Vermont Legal Aid’s Mental Health Law Project, Jack McCullough, requested that the Vermont Senate Judiciary Committee add language to the bill that would preclude a patient’s name from being added to the federal registry’s list of individuals who should not own firearms, at least until a preliminary finding of mental illness was adjudicated fully. Lawmakers indicated that they would not add the requested language in this bill, and would rather deal with that issue in separate legislation.

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High Court to Consider Religious Rights of “Secular” Businesses under ACA

Sometime in March, the Supreme Court will consider whether for-profit corporations can claim the protection of either the First Amendment, or the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act, in denying contraception coverage to employees. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) requires that employers provide a range of preventative services to employees, including birth control coverage. However, owners of businesses such as Hobby Lobby, an arts and crafts chain, and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corporation, which specializes in making wood cabinets, maintain that the ACA’s mandate on birth control coverage violates their religious freedom.

Read more here.