JAIL, HOMELESSNESS, AND EUTHANASIA — UNACCEPTABLE SOLUTIONS
A young mother became alarmed in her local grocery store when she realized that her active three-year-old son was no longer trotting along behind her as she shopped. She and the store personnel hurriedly searched up and down the aisles looking for him and calling his name. They found the little tot sitting on the floor near the checkout on aisle 7, surrounded by colorful candy wrappers. He had opened dozens of different candies and sampled each one! His mouth and chin were covered with chocolate, and melted candy was smeared across his shirt and on the floor around him. In a similar incident, my brother, Larry, walked into a supermarket one summer day, taking the opportunity to enjoy the air conditioning, for it was oppressively hot outside. As he walked down the fresh food aisle, his eyes fell on the rows of plump, sweet grapes. He stopped at that display, and with no effort to conceal his actions, Larry began to eat the grapes. They were cool and good, and he laughed aloud, delighted at how pleasant they tasted. Larry was interrupted in his consumption by an angry clerk who was yelling and pointing at him, directing the store guard to restrain that thief while the police were called. In fact, Larry was no more a thief than the three-year-old, because neither of them was acting out of malice, and in both scenarios an essential element of crime was missing: intent. Indeed, neither the three-year-old boy nor my mentally ill brother, in his diminished capacity, was capable of planning and executing a real crime. The child rebelled when his mother lifted him away from the sweet feast. The youngster began to cry loudly and struggle against his mother to get back to “his” candy. But the boy’s mother was bigger and stronger than he was, and she effortlessly carried him away from the scene of his “crime.” Contrarily, no one in Larry’s family was big or strong enough to extricate him from the many situations his mental illness caused as he wandered at will the streets of Memphis. Indeed, Larry’s family was not allowed to either restrict his movements or enforce psychiatric treatment and drugs to help him. After all, mentally unstable people like Larry have their rights!
There are those organizations that denounce enforced hospitalization and treatment of the mentally ill, calling such intervention a violation of civil rights. The sincere efforts of such organizations may benefit those mentally ill persons who manage to stay clear of our nation’s jails; however, for thousands of others like Larry, it is just as unreasonable to expect them to run their own lives without psychiatric drugs and restraint as it would have been for the young mother to allow her little boy to finish the candy at his leisure and then find his own way home. Let those organizations fight not only for the rights of the moderately mentally ill, but let them also fight for inpatient care for mentally ill men and women who are today serving time for committing crimes they cannot even understand as well as for scores of mentally ill persons who are homeless, living under wretched conditions and deprived of treatment that might restore many to useful lives.