Protection and Advocacy of the Rights of the Mentally Ill: Congress Tries Again

Article excerpt

Recently Congress has shown renewed interest in defining and protecting the rights of mentally iii patients in residential facilities. On July 31 the Senate passed the "Protection and Advocacy for Mentally III Persons Act" (S. 974) sponsored by Senator Weicker, while the House of Representatives referred a similar measure introduced by Congressmen Waxman and Bilirakis on October 3 to the Energy and Commerce Committee and reported out on November 21, 1985. (H.R. 3492)

Congressional action follows widespread disappointment with earlier federal attempts to ensure that mentally iii patients were afforded necessary minimum legal protections. Although [section] 501 of the Mental Health Systems Act of 1980, which contained a detailed enumeration of the rights of the mentally iii, survived the repeal of MHSA in 1981, its merely hortatory language has had small effect. Few states have actually "reviewed and revised" their laws "to ensure that mentally iii patients receive the protection and services they require" as recommended by [section] 501. (1) The Senate Act recommends that states take account of the bill of rights for the mentally iii outlined by the President's Commission on Mental Health, which it incorporates into the body of the Act's text; the House does not refer to a bill of rights as such but instead defines the terms "abuse" and "neglect" as they relate to mentally iii patients. Congress is now prepared to encourage state compliance by setting aside federal funds for the advocacy of the rights of the mentally ill.

House and Senate measures provide for an extension of the system of existing protection and advocacy agencies established under the Developmental Disabilities Assistance and Bill of Rights Act (P. …