ACLU Prompts State Hospitals to Halt Forced Medication of Patients
In May 2007, the ACLU Foundation of Northern California and Protection and Advocacy, Inc., a statewide disability rights organization, issued a letter to the California Department of Mental Health stating our concern that the state hospital system was forcibly drugging patients who have been tried for crimes and were found not guilty by reason of insanity. Whereas DMH policy recognized the rights of other patients to refuse non-emergency medication where no dangers are presented by this choice, patients who were once deemed insane in court, perhaps years before, have routinely been forced to take powerful and potentially dangerous psychotropic drugs.
In response to our letter, DMH issued a special order on October 22 prohibiting the routine involuntary medication of these patients without approval by an independent medication panel. In cases where medication may be prescribed long term, approval must now be granted by a superior court judge.
We are pleased that DMH has recognized that these patients are entitled to the same constitutional protections accorded to other involuntarily committed patients. We also believe that the new policy will strengthen an existing expectation that physicians and psychiatrists should explain the benefits and risks of taking prescribed medication, and encourage patients to actively participate in their treatment.