A Letter to Hardy Myers, Attorney General, State of Oregon

Dear Mr. Myers:

As an attorney concerned about civil liberties, I am shocked to learn that you will be proposing legislation that will chip away even more at the very limited rights that people accused of mental illness have.

I have been observing the campaign, led by organizations funded by drug manufacturers, to demonize mental health clients and try to convince the public that such people are responsible somehow for serious crimes and homelessness. While you may dismiss this as an exaggeration, I must point out that this was precisely what the rulers of Nazi Germany did in the 1930's to the Jews. First the Jews were blamed for the problems of the country, then laws were passed taking away more and more of their rights. I don't have to point out to you what finally happened there, but the fact is that everything that was done to German Jewry was completely according to German law, as passed by the Nazis.

You may believe, if you take the drug company propaganda as true, that by forcing people to take psychiatric drugs you are actually benefitting them. But as a patients' rights attorney, I have seen literally thousands of people whose lives have virtually been destroyed as a result of forced psychiatric drugging. These chemicals cause many extreme and undesirable effects, which after long use are irreversible.

Forcing people to take these drugs is an extreme infringement on their liberty interests, and yet the new laws you are proposing would make it extremely easy to take away people's rights to decide what goes into their own bodies, and their right to live their lives as they please. These will be people who have committed no crime and who have harmed no one.

The criteria for psychiatric commitment set forth in the 1975 U.S. Supreme Court case Donaldson vs. O'Connor are, as you know, binding on every state. By requiring behavioral criteria of danger to self or others, or inability to care for oneself, the Supreme Court tried to strike a balance between the government's responsibility to care for people who may need care and the right of people to be left alone if they are not harming anyone.

Even with these criteria in place, I have observed plenty of cases where people's lives have been taken over, and frequently damaged, by perhaps well-meaning but overzealous government employees.

We need more protection of people's rights in this area, not drug company sponsored laws that give mental health professionals the unfettered right to lock up and/or drug anyone they please.


Ted Chabasinski, J.D.