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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Debate on Loughner’s mental health treatment needs compassion for all sides

    By now, Jared Loughner’s mugshot is familiar. The photo — released shortly after the Jan. 8 shootings — shows Loughner bald, mouth tilted up into an almost-smile. In the wake of the attack that killed six and wounded 13, it wasn’t hard to look at the photo and think, “This man is incredibly sick.”

    Now, Loughner, 23, has been diagnosed with schizophrenia and in treatment for nearly four months. In May, he was declared “mentally unfit for trial” and sent to a facility in Springfield, Mo., where at times he has been forcibly medicated with psychotropic drugs. Prosecutors say Loughner needs another eight months of treatment to be made competent for trial. His lawyers though, have objected to forcibly medicating him and have asked a federal court to deny an extension of treatment.

    Prison doctors first began medicating Loughner against his will in June to alleviate his symptoms of schizophrenia. The next month, a federal appeals court ordered the prison to stop in response to a challenge by his lawyers. But almost immediately after the court’s order, prison doctors resumed medicating Loughner. They said he had become violent, and was a danger to himself and others.

    Earlier court filings have said Loughner spat at his lawyers, and once threw a chair.

    But according to Judy Clarke, Loughner’s attorney, Loughner’s treatment “has done nothing to affect his delusions or … the hallmarks of Mr. Loughner’s schizophrenia.” Furthermore, she argued in a filing on Friday, “even after some 60 contiguous days of anti-psychotic medications, he continues to be psychotic. He is now severely depressed, tearful, restless, agitated and psychotic.”

    Loughner has reportedly been on suicide watch since July, and prison officials have said Loughner paces in circles in his cell, screams loudly and cries for hours at a time. Clarke argues that these are signs Loughner’s condition is deteriorating. Still, prosecutors say a psychologist at the Missouri facility believes that “within eight months, the defendant will be made competent.”

    There’s little use in Loughner’s case to lament what could have been handled differently. Arizona has cut tens of millions of dollars from behavioral health services since 2008. Pima Community College saw a troubled student, and did what amounted to very little. Surely his parents saw warning signs. There must have been obstacles every step of the way leading up to Jan. 8, and these are impossible to return to.

    That’s why the decisions made about Loughner’s treatment matter so much now. That’s why it’s important to summon compassion for a man who killed six people (including a little girl), critically wounded a congresswoman and injured 12 others. It’s impossible to go back and correct every misstep, which is why it’s important to examine Loughner’s case with all the care he deserves.

    What Loughner did was a terrible, horrible thing, and a trial may bring closure to some of the grief he caused. But the trial is only part of a reason to medicate him. Medicating him would be a kindness. If he is a danger to himself and others, if the symptoms of his condition could be suppressed, there is no reason not to.

    Clarke’s arguments against an extension of his treatment in Missouri are clearly a defense tactic meant to make it easier for her to say, “Look, my client is crazy and hopeless.” Furthermore, the idea that just because Loughner is 23 means he can decide what is best for him relies on the idea that he’s fully capable. But if the symptoms of schizophrenia reveal themselves between the ages of 19 and 25, and the symptoms are debilitating and fill you with delusions, age clearly has little to do with your reasoning and ability to decide whether you need treatment.

    Extending Loughner’s treatment not only makes him competent to stand trial, offering an opportunity for some semblance of justice for his victims and their families, but it’s better for him in the long run too.

    — Kristina Bui is the copy chief. She can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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