Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Court: Loughner needs to take his meds

In a decision for sanity, Reuters is reporting that the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has affirmed a lower court's decision that allows the psychiatrists treating Jared Lee Loughner, the schizophrenic who shot Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and killed six other people in a Safeway parking lot in Tucson, to force Loughner to take antipsychotic medications:
Prison doctors may continue to forcibly medicate the man charged with the deadly Tucson shooting spree last year that gravely wounded then-Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords as they seek to restore his fitness for trial, a federal appeals court ruled on Monday.

The 2-1 decision by a panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a lower-court ruling that extended Jared Loughner's stay at the federal prison hospital in Springfield, Missouri, and permitted staff there to administer anti-psychotic drugs to him against his will.

"It is clear that Loughner has a severe mental illness, that he represents a danger to himself or others, and that the prescribed medication is appropriate and in his medical interest," Judge Jay Bybee wrote in the appeals court's 117-page majority opinion.

The only disturbing aspect of this story is the dissenting opinion issued by Judge Marsha Berzon. Berzon asserts that forcing Loughner to take psychotropic drugs infringes on his rights to a fair trial--that is, his hope of being found not guilty by reason of insanity--because the drugs make him appear to be sane and competent. In other words, the meds actually work.

The question when dealing with a mentally ill criminal suspect is what is more important: getting a not guilty verdict in a court or restoring his mental health?

I strikes me as patently obvious that it should be the latter. Would any judge deny heart medication to a comatose murder suspect because the heart medication might restore the prisoner's health and make him less sympathetic to a jury? If any judge did that and the patient died, the judge ought to be impeached and possibly tried for homicide.

When it comes to Louhgner's medical condition, his medical doctors must be trusted to decide in Loughner's best interests. He is incapable of making decisions about his pyschiatric care on his own. Without forcibly medicating Loughner, he would not take these drugs and his mental health would not be restored. His health easily trumps his supposed fair trial rights. It's not even close.

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