Beyond Blue

Beyond Blue

Society Versus the Law

Of course, even if we had done our best to treat Cho and killers like him, we may have seen the same outcome. Because our hands would have been tied legally.

That’s why everyone I know in their twenties wants to become an attorney: they have all the power (and money). More than educators, more than architects, more than writers (unless they write “The DaVinci Code” and get the Vatican miffed), more even than politicians (okay, that one’s a toss up).

I was somewhat horrified after reading Washington Post columnist Marc Fisher’s piece about how today’s laws create barriers to mental health care.

Among other observations were the following, quoted from the article entitled “When Laws Create Barriers to Care, the Consequences Should Be No Surprise.”


“The current system of laws was created to counter the abuses that occurred in an era of huge institutions that warehoused the mentally ill and treated them like animals. But the pendulum has swung so far in the opposite direction, protecting the mentally ill at the expense of the broader community, that caring people find themselves stymied at every turn.

“‘You cannot get help for someone you love who is psychotic until they have hurt themselves or someone else,’ concluded Pete Earley, a Fairfax father whose son drove a car with his eyes closed, wrapped tinfoil around his head to protect himself against the CIA tapping into his brain, and broke into a neighbor’s house to have a bubble bath — none of it enough to win treatment from the state mental health system.


“A system that requires you to say the magic words (“imminent danger”) before it will take action leads people to say things that aren’t true, as Earley did: ‘I went in and I lied. I said my son was threatening to kill me.’ That got his son the treatment he needed.

“I’ve heard this week from parents who despair for their children and cannot understand why their country’s laws create barriers to effective, compassionate care. A mother in Loudoun County tells of collecting medical reports concluding that her 12-year-old son is a danger to himself and others, and then presenting those reports, along with her son’s drawings of men wielding knives and guns, only to be told that her son has “minor deficits” and doesn’t need intensive treatment.


“When a mother says of the child she loves that ‘he has no empathy, conscience or remorse,’ you’d think someone would pay attention.

“We don’t yet know what effort, if any, Cho’s parents made to get help for their son. But a system that requires lies, superhuman effort or embarrassing publicity before it will address desperate ills is one that deserves the disrespect it now attracts.”

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