Unlimited Access. Try it Today! Your First 10 Days Always $0.99

Readers Respond

News Opinion Readers Respond

Sun wrong on involuntary commitment bill

The Sun's April 5 editorial ("The tricky question of involuntary commitment") misses two critical points about the bill to clarify mental health civil commitment standards in Maryland, and it misstates another.

The bill's key component — making explicit that a person whose mental illness prevents him from meeting his basic survival needs of food, clothing and shelter is "dangerous to self" within the meaning of the law — goes unmentioned. It is hard to imagine a reasonable argument why such an individual would not need hospital care. And yet many who cannot function independently go untreated under the current Maryland law, simply because they do not appear violent or suicidal.

The editorial also fails to note that the language of the bill is identical in substance to the civil commitment laws of most other states. Maryland is being asked to catch up to the pack, not to venture into uncharted waters. If the bill really "risks creating more problems than it solves," wouldn't the opponents have horror stories to report from these other states? We have heard none.

Finally, the claim that the bill "would broaden the definition of dangerousness to cases in which … a person might become dangerous [but] doesn't exhibit serious symptoms at the time he is evaluated" conflates the very different questions of dangerousness and mental illness. The bill would certainly not permit the commitment of anyone who does not demonstrate severe mental illness and a need for treatment. But it would make clear that an actively delusional or psychotic person with a history of dangerous behavior should not be released on the grounds that he made no threats against anyone during his evaluation.

The Sun grants far too much deference to the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene's predictable resistance to change. That is the nature of bureaucracies, even well-intentioned ones. If the House of Delegates is guided instead by the merits of the arguments put forth, it will follow the Senate's unanimous lead and give Marylanders with untreated severe mental illness a chance to recover the lives they have lost.

Brian Stettin, Arlington, Va.

The writer is policy director of the Treatment Advocacy Center.

  • Text NEWS to 70701 to get Baltimore Sun local news text alerts
  • Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
    Related Content
    • The virtues of instant replay
      The virtues of instant replay

      Replay and Review has been used in Major League Baseball in some form for a little less than three years. Every year has seen a change in the exact operations, and this past season was clearly the biggest change yet ("Some thoughts on MLB's new pace of game measures and modified replay rules,"...

    • What's in a 'mandate'?
      What's in a 'mandate'?

      Many Maryland conservatives think the General Assembly should bow to the "mandate" Gov. Larry Hogan won in last year's election.

    • The Sun's southern sympathies
      The Sun's southern sympathies

      The Sun's editorial-writing forebears were wrong about President Abraham Lincoln, but their errors extended far beyond the president ("The Sun and President Lincoln," April 17).

    • Legislation only hurts charter schools
      Legislation only hurts charter schools

      As one of "those charter advocates" mentioned in The Sun's editorial regarding charter schools ("Better than nothing," April 17), I strongly disagree with the conclusion that Gov. Larry Hogan should sign the horrendous charter school legislation passed by the General Assembly.

    • Sun ignores race in police shooting
      Sun ignores race in police shooting

      Letter writer John Schlaffer of Parkville was correct regarding The Sun's coverage of the injured Anne Arundel County police officer ("Officer shot, story buried," April 16). Why was the story buried? Also, why was the race of both the officer and the criminal not mentioned in the original coverage...

    • Save money with solar energy
      Save money with solar energy

      Regarding your recent report "Baltimore residents form solar energy co-op" (April 11) there has been an important development for solar energy in Maryland.