Mental illness in politics

No, I’m not talking about the presidential election…

Last week the California State Assembly discussed a new law (AB 1424) that would prohibit the state from putting a child in foster care solely for refusing to administer medication for a psychiatric disorder, or for refusing to allow the child to be tested for a psychiatric condition. An analysis of the bill can be found here.

According to a press release by the bill’s author, Assemblyman Dennis Mountjoy, the bill would protect children from “forced medication with dangerous psychiatric drugs.” He quotes Dr. Fred Baughman, a “pediatric neurologist,” as claiming mental disorders don’t exist, and quotes Cassandra Auerbach of the Citizens Commission on Human Rights as warning that psychiatrists are on the payroll of big drug companies and are covering up suicide statistics and other dangers of these drugs. The release doesn’t quite come out and say that psychiatrists are stealing your babies and stewing them for dinner, but it comes close.

I doubt this bill will ever make it out of committee, and that’s probably a good thing. In general I give deference to the parents when it comes to raising their own children, but two things set off alarm bells for me in this bill. First, I don’t like the way it treats mental illnesses as fundamentally different than physical illnesses. If the state should intervene when a parent refuses to administer life-saving medicine to treat a virus, it should also intervene when a child is chronically suicidal or homicidal. Second, I’m extremely sceptical of the two “experts” cited in the propaganda for this bill. Dr. Baughman seems to be of the opinion that mental illnesses don’t exist because we don’t yet know the direct causal links between brain chemistry and most illnesses. Even ignoring the fact that this lack of knowledge is true of many physical illnesses as well, the idea that mental illness is not associated with brain and body chemistry is ludicrous on its face: if suicidal thoughts and other dangerous behavior were not related to chemistry then psychoactive drugs could not have the effects they have. While they are not unbiased in this debate, the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) testified in a letter to Congress that Dr. Baughman “represent[s] fringe opinions” about psychiatry. As for the Citizens Commission on Human Rights, this righteously-named group was founded by the Church of Scientology with a charter to attack psychiatrists and the psychiatric profession. For those who don’t know their history, Scientology is a cult that considers the field of medicine, and particularly psychiatry, as evil incarnate. I recommend Garry Armstrong’s site for a good explanation of why. I don’t whether CCHR is behind this bill or just supporting it, but their association with it in any form makes me worried.