San Francisco passes law
allowing forced treatment of mentally ill
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[July 09, 2014]
By Jennifer Chaussee
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) -
San Francisco lawmakers approved a law late on Tuesday
allowing the forced treatment of mentally ill patients
under certain conditions, drawing swift criticism from
patient advocacy groups who say the measure tramples
The San Francisco Board of Supervisors, which passes legislation for
the California city and county, adopted by a vote of 9-2 a measure
known as Laura's Law.
If given final approval it would allow court-ordered outpatient
treatment for people with chronic and severe mental illness deemed a
risk to themselves or others or who have been jailed or hospitalized
more than once in the prior three years, among other conditions.
San Francisco legislator Mark Farrell, who proposed the legislation
to the board, said the program would help vulnerable sick people
"and provide the families the support they deserve".
Modeled after a similar involuntary treatment law passed in New York
in 1999, California lawmakers passed Laura's Law in 2002 after
19-year-old Laura Wilcox was shot and killed by a mentally ill
patient at a Nevada County behavioral health clinic where she was an
The state law allows family members, police officers or mental
health professionals to file petitions requesting the court-mandated
treatment of a mentally ill person.
Individual counties can opt out. Laura's Law has only been fully
adopted by three California counties: Nevada, Orange, and Yolo. It
is expected to receive final approval from supervisors next week and
then be signed into law by San Francisco Mayor Edwin Lee, who has
expressed support for the program.
The law's implementation has been slow and sparse due to the
concerns about civil rights, resources and costs.
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"This is the wrong direction for any community but especially a
progressive community like San Francisco," said Mental Health
Association of San Francisco Executive Director Eduardo Vega.
"There's no real doubt that this is a process that fosters stigma
around mental illness," Vega told Reuters after the vote.
The law requires city health officials to offer a mental health
patient voluntary treatment before being forced into an involuntary
It also appoints a three-person panel to each case, which includes a
forensic psychiatrist who would review the case to determine if a
court-mandate is necessary.
(Reporting by Jennifer Chaussee in San Francisco; Writing by Eric M.
Johnson; Editing by Gareth Jones)
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