A bill to expand federally tax-paid coverage of mental-health services, including those to children, has been given new life on Capitol Hill with a move to markup - but some say the measure is anti-liberty and could lead to the forced, and even unnecessary, treatment of unwilling patients based on government order.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee announced a full committee markup set for Wednesday for H.R. 2646, the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act introduced by Rep. Tim Murphy, a Pennsylvania Republican whose profession, outside of politics, has been as a psychologist with 30 or so years of experience.But first, the backdrop.
His bill is being touted as an answer to shootings like the one seen in Newton, Connecticut, that left 20 children and six staffers at Sandy Hook Elementary School dead, along with the gunman, Adam Lanza, and his mother. Lanza, who shot himself in the head after committing the other murders, was reportedly suffering from mental-health issues, including Asperger's and perhaps, according to Psychology Today, undiagnosed and untreated schizophrenia.
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It's Lanza whom Murphy, along with Rep. Fred Upton, who chairs the Energy and Commerce Committee, referenced as a driving force behind the bill.
"Next week, we'll mark a critical milestone in the multi-year effort to begin to deliver meaningful bipartisan reforms for families in mental health crisis," said Upton and Murphy, in their joint written statement. "We are making great strides on achieving long sought reforms by removing barriers to care, creating an Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Use Disorders, and transforming how SAMHSA [Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration] grant dollars are spent. For too long, families have struggled to find care for their loved ones with mental illness, and this legislation will begin to deliver the needed reforms. Our work continues next week, and we look forward to a big vote followed by consideration by the full House."
The measure has received considerable support.
The National Review on Friday weighed in with an editorial that spoke of the proposal's "commonsensical" intent "to refocus our wasteful, woefully misdirected federal mental-health bureaucracy on serious mental illness" by imposing tighter controls on how SAMHSA distributes its money.
By establishing a new government entity and by instilling a new chief to head it up to hold those who receive the money accountable for what their expenditures have accomplished, the news outlet said.
"The Murphy bill would create a National Mental Health Policy Laboratory that would establish objective outcome measures, so that policymakers could know which programs are actually serving the seriously mentally ill," the National Review said. "Murphy's bill would also install, at or near the head of the federal mental-health apparatus, an assistant secretary for mental health and substance abuse disorders, who would be an actual medical professional with psychiatric experience."
The bill also overhauls privacy laws as they now stand, so that family members have easier access to providing assistance to their relations with deemed mental-health problems.
Not all see it as a positive.
Laura Lagemann, a former licensed clinical psychologist with 23 years of experience and a present commissioner with the Citizens Commission on Human Rights, warns the implications from its passage could prove disastrous for individual liberties.
"This bill is a very big threat to liberty," she said, in an email to WND. "It has the potential for scary abuse. Not something you want allowed by law."
Lagemann said the bill has been largely opposed by "mental health advocacy groups because one of its key provisions broadens the criteria for who can be given psychiatric treatment against their will."
In a written statement to WND, she said: "The bill is intended to fix a broken system, but it has generated controversy for, among other things, its inclusion of broader criteria for who can be given psychiatric treatment against their will. This can include anything under the umbrella of psychiatric treatment - drugs, hospitalization, electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). ... Murphy introduced the bill in the aftermath of the Newton killings by Adam Lanza. The rationale for the bill is that people with untreated mental illness pose a threat to the population and need to be treated, whether they realize it or not. The bill has provisions intending to remove barriers to care. One of those barriers is the individual may refuse treatment."
In other words, if the bill passes, the ability of those deemed in need of mental-health treatment to refuse certain types of treatment will be seriously hampered - and as Lagemann pointed, the medical industry is far from reaching consensus on what constitutes helpful versus harmful when it comes to some treatments.
"Some mental health professionals argue that the escalating use of psychotropic drugs in America is causing an increase in bizarre killing sprees, like the Newton killings," she said. "There is active and often heated debate among professionals within the mental health field about the merits and dangers of psychiatric treatment ... [and] there is no consensus among professionals, whether academics or clinicians, about the benefits of psychotropic drugs. There are conflicting research results, with some key ... studies showing that psychiatric drugs worsen the conditions they are prescribed to treat."
Lagemann said Murphy's bill obviously comes from the view that "standard psychiatric treatment is the fix," and warned of the implications of the so-dubbed "Assisted Outpatient Treatment" section of the measure, which "broadens the criteria for who can involuntarily be given psychiatric treatment."
And her conclusion?
"It does not make sense for Congress to legislate forced treatment when the experts do not agree on whether or not the treatment may be causing some of the problem," she wrote. "The public should be very concerned about his bill. People don't realize how vulnerable they are once given a psychiatric label, nor how easy it is to get that label. Once given a psychiatric label, it is possible to lose all your rights and freedoms. You can be involuntarily hospitalized and given psychotropic drugs or ECT against your will."