Tuesday | November 21, 2017
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Help for mentally ill

With sharp partisan divisions in Washington and the midterm elections less than six months away, we have no illusions about the prospects for bipartisan cooperation. That said, if any proposal can bring both sides together before November it should be a bill reforming treatment of the mentally ill being advanced by Republican Rep. Tim Murphy of Pennsylvania.

In the aftermath of the many mass shootings we’ve seen in recent years — the Arizona assault that injured Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords; the rampage that left 12 dead in an Aurora, Colo. movie theater; the horrific attack in Newtown, Conn. — the reflexive response from many lawmakers has been to pursue new gun control laws. We’ve long opposed such measures, arguing that any remedy ought to be tailored toward the narrow segment of the population that abuses firearms, not the majority that uses them responsibly. One does not have to share that belief, however, to recognize that the ultimate cause of each of these incidents was the mental illness of the perpetrators.

Representative Murphy, himself a psychologist, is offering up his legislation partially as a corrective for the deinstitutionalization movement of the past several decades, which made it harder to force the mentally ill into treatment against their will. The impulse behind that effort was a noble one. Much of the public was rightly repulsed at the conditions that used to prevail in asylums and justifiably sought more humane treatment for the afflicted. Unfortunately, the effort ended up overcorrecting for the underlying problem. When the mentally ill were left largely to fend for themselves, too many of them ended up in jail or on the streets.

Murphy’s effort would push states toward creating mental health courts that could compel treatment for individuals with a history of violent or criminal behavior. It would rationalize privacy laws to give family members and caregivers more information on the individuals’ condition. And it would restructure Medicaid to better provide for long-term hospitalization for those with severe mental illnesses.

Murphy has already attracted significant bipartisan support for this legislation, but recently hit a speed bump in the form of a rival bill pushed by the Democratic leadership. Unfortunately, that piece of legislation continues the status quo, failing to embrace any substantive reforms and simply throwing more money at the existing system instead. It seems to exist primarily for the purpose of denying Republicans a bipartisan accomplishment.

That gambit is likely short-sighted. With an anti-incumbency mood sweeping the nation, a rare instance of bipartisan cooperation would likely be politically advantageous for both sides. There is, however, an even better argument for passing Murphy’s bill: it’s the right thing to do.

— From the Orange County Register


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