Health Law

Murder Tragedy Shines Spotlight on Advocacy Program for Mentally Ill

William Bruce was able to gain release from a mental hospital with the help of patient advocates funded by the federal government, despite his doctor’s recommendations that he remain at the facility.

“Very dangerous indeed for release to the community,” one doctor wrote in Bruce’s record.

Two months later, in June 2006, Bruce killed his mother with a hatchet. A Wall Street Journal story on the tragedy says the case shows the impact of the Protection and Advocacy for Individuals with Mental Illness program, known as PAIMI.

Some doctors and hospital administrators contend that advocates too often harm the mentally ill by fighting for their right to refuse treatment. Patient advocates, on the other hand, say patients need someone to protect them from abuses and fight for their rights.

Helen Bailey, a lawyer with Maine’s Disability Rights Center in Augusta, fought to win Bruce’s release. “No matter how psychotic, that voice is still worthy of being heard,” she told the newspaper.

Bailey has filed suit challenging a Maine law passed with the help of Bruce’s father that makes it easier for hospitals to compel patients to take medication.

Meanwhile, Bruce is back in the hospital after being found not guilty of his mother’s slaying by reason of insanity. Now he takes his medication. “The advocates didn’t protect me from myself, unfortunately,” he told the newspaper in an interview.

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