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The New Neurobiology of Severe Psychiatric Disorders and Its Implications for Laws Governing Involuntary Commitment and Treatment

109 Pages Posted: 13 Dec 2004  

Fuller Torrey

The Treatment Advocacy Center

Kenneth J. Kress

University of Iowa - College of Law

Date Written: December 2004

Abstract

Every student of the law knows that changed circumstances are grounds for changing the law. Although changes in social relations are the most common form of changed circumstances, changes in beliefs about the world can also spur legal change. Among the changed beliefs about the world that can result in changed laws, is changes in scientific beliefs, including medical theory. This paper argues that such changes are now needed for laws governing the involuntary commitment and treatment of individuals with severe psychiatric disorders. Recent advances in the understanding of the neurobiology of these disorders have rendered obsolete many assumptions underlying past statutes and legal decisions. This is illustrated by using schizophrenia as an example and examining two influential situations: California's Lanterman-Petris-Short Act (1969) and Wisconsin's Lessard v. Schmidt decision (1972). It is concluded that laws governing involuntary commitment and treatment need to be updated to incorporate the current neurobiological understanding of severe psychiatric disorders. In reaching these conclusions, we consider moral justifications for our suggestions, and sketch changes in constitutional law, statutory law, and public policy that are generated by the arguments we deploy.

Keywords: mental illness, involuntary commitment, involuntary treatment, psychiatric disorders

JEL Classification: I12, I18, K19, K32, K49

Suggested Citation

Torrey, Fuller and Kress, Kenneth J., The New Neurobiology of Severe Psychiatric Disorders and Its Implications for Laws Governing Involuntary Commitment and Treatment (December 2004). U Iowa Legal Studies Research Paper No. 04-04. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=634243 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.634243

E. Fuller Torrey

The Treatment Advocacy Center ( email )

3300 North Fairfax Drive, Suite 220
Arlington, VA 22201
United States

Kenneth J. Kress (Contact Author)

University of Iowa - College of Law ( email )

Melrose and Byington
Iowa City, IA 52242
United States

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