Commitment: Should It Be Easier? Children of Slain Couple Want Laws Changed

Article excerpt

The children of James and Nancy McBride plan to fight for changes in the laws on committing the mentally ill. They want to give families more power to get treatment for relatives unable help themselves.

The couple's son, Matthew McBride, who suffered from paranoid schizophrenia, is accused of murdering his parents in their Glendale home. His brothers and sister say they wish it had been easier to commit him to a hospital for treatment.

But the issue of commitment is complex - both legally and philosophically, experts say.

State laws are set up to protect the mentally ill, says Richard D. Stevenson, executive director of the St. Louis Chapter of the Alliance for the Mentally Ill.

The law bars involuntary hospitalization unless it can be proved to the circuit court that someone is a danger to himself or others. Stevenson would prefer a law that allows relatives to hospitalize a family member with schizophrenia when they see his or her condition decline.

St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert P. McCulloch says psychiatrists hesitate to commit people for extended periods, even when most would agree that the person is dangerous.

"After a person has done something terrible, only then is every psychiatrist willing to sign off that that person is dangerous," he said.

The director of the state's Division of Comprehensive Psychiatric Services, Fred McDaniel, says court-ordered commitments pose problems for the families and for psychiatrists.

Professionals feel uncomfortable sticking their necks out in a courtroom, McDaniel said. …