Patient in hospital pressed his hand to the glass asking help.

Hastings Center Report

Holding the Guardrails on Involuntary Commitment

Abstract: In response to the increasing number of mentally ill people experiencing homelessness, some policy-makers have called for the expanded use of involuntary commitment, even for individuals who are not engaging in behaviors that are immediately life-threatening. Yet there is no evidence that involuntary commitment offers long-term benefits, and significant reasons to believe that expanding the practice will cause harm. In addition, these proposals ignore research showing that most people with mental illness have the capacity to make medical decisions for themselves. Rather than expanding the use of involuntary commitment, policy-makers should support approaches proven to decrease the prevalence of homelessness, such as supportive housing. In addition, states should reevaluate their commitment standards for persons who pose no risk of harm to others. One promising approach is Northern Ireland’s Mental Health Capacity Act of 2016, which establishes a uniform standard for imposing nonconsensual health care interventions, without any distinction between mental illnesses and other conditions in which capacity might be compromised.

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