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Mental Health Measure Short on Compassion

September 15, 2002

Re "A Few Good Measures," editorial, Sept. 10: Your call to the governor to sign "Laura's law" demonstrates ignorance of the law and perpetuates stigma and discrimination against individuals with psychiatric disabilities. It is false and irresponsible to state that all individuals who could be caught in the net of AB 1421 are unable to make "rational" decisions about their mental health care.

Nothing in existing law prevents courts from offering or even ordering outpatient services, including medication, for individuals who cannot provide for their basic needs for food, shelter and clothing because of a lack of understanding of their diagnosis. In fact, with the Lanterman-Petris-Short Act, conservatorships provide for such assistance for up to one year.

Counties do not implement existing law--with respect to voluntary and involuntary treatment--because they lack the services to meet individual needs. AB 1421 contains no appropriation and thus fails to address the need for additional resources. AB 1421 and its supporters scapegoat individuals with psychiatric disabilities for the absence of services within the mental health system. Those who support the bill are exploiting the stereotypes of violence and incompetence to promote their agenda.

Michael Stortz

Staff Attorney

Protection and Advocacy

Oakland

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