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Webcast of PJC Oral Argument on Forcible Medication of Psychiatric Patients

On November 30, 2006, the first day of webcasting oral arguments before the Court of Appeals, PJC Appellate Director Suzanne Sangree argued Department of Health and Mental Hygiene v. Kelly, No. 47 (Md. Court of Appeals, Sept. 2006), a case to determine the standard for forcible medication of competent involuntary psychiatric patients. (To view the argument via Court of Appeals webcast go to case No. 47 at this link http://mdcourts.gov/coappeals/webcast.html.)

Mr. Kelly is an involuntary patient at Perkins hospital who the State concedes is not dangerous in the hospital context.  Indeed, apart from his penchant for consulting with attorneys and filing complaints about the services of his doctors and conditions at the hospital, Perkins considers him a model patient. Perkins doctors want to treat Mr. Kelly with psychotropic medications that cause serious side effects for Mr. Kelly.  Mr. Kelly has steadfastly refused his consent to be drugged.  The Circuit Court of Baltimore City held that the State cannot forcibly medicate a competent patient absent proof that the patient is dangerous to himself or others within the hospital context. The State appealed, and the Court of Appeals took the case.

The PJC represents Mr. Kelly on appeal with co-counsel the Maryland Disability Law Center (counsel on brief were Suzanne Sangree and Roscoe Jones, Jr., 2005-2006 Murnaghan Appellate Advocacy Fellow for the PJC and Laura Cain and Irene Smith for the MDLC). On appeal, the PJC argued that the only plausible reading of the statute is that the State must prove the individual is dangerous in the current context: to himself or others in the hospital.  The far broader reading of the statute advanced by the State would allow hospitals to forcibly medicate a presently non-dangerous, competent individual, like Mr. Kelly, simply because the State deems the medication prescribed to be medically appropriate to treat his mental illness.  Because all involuntary psychiatric patients have been found to be dangerous while free in the community during their civil or criminal commitment proceedings, the State’s reading of the statute would render every involuntary patient vulnerable to forced medication when State doctors deem it appropriate.

The ACLU of Maryland, the Judge David L. Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, the National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare, and the National Mental Health Association filed an amicus brief in support of Mr. Kelly.  This brief documents that there is not a single randomized clinical study that concludes that psychotropic medications are effective to treat delusional disorder, the diagnosis assigned to Mr. Kelly. The Maryland Psychiatric Society, the Johns Hopkins Health System Corporation and the Johns Hopkins University filed an amicus brief supporting the State.
A decision is pending.

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