No an­swers to mother’s last de­ci­sion

The Buffalo News - - CITY&REGION - COM­MEN­TARY

My mom would be alive to­day if we could have forced her to take the medicine she needed to make her brain work prop­erly.

But we couldn’t make her swal­low med­i­ca­tion against her will. We couldn’t make the courts or doc­tors force her to, ei­ther. It doesn’t work like that.

I live with that re­al­ity ev­ery day. It never strays far from my thoughts. It came back last month when Lawrence Bierl, who lived for years in a makeshift camp outdoors in Amherst, was found dead of hy­pother­mia in an NFTA Metro bus shel­ter.

His death stirred a host of com­pli­cated is­sues about men­tal ill­ness, home­less­ness and in­di­vid­ual rights. Why wasn’t more done to help him? Who was to blame?

I know those ques­tions are im­pos­si­ble to answer.

When my mom went off her med­i­ca­tion and got sick, the men­tal ill­ness it had kept at bay for decades re­turned with new venom. Delu­sions con­vinced her that her pills – which also made her drowsy and for­get­ful and dulled her emo­tions – were some­thing the devil was us­ing to con­trol her. When we pleaded with her to start tak­ing them again, she be­lieved we were be­ing in­flu­enced by the devil, too.

I couldn’t un­der­stand why, when we fi­nally got her ad­mit­ted to the psych ward against her will, they wouldn’t just give her a shot and hold her un­til she sta­bi­lized again. If she had been given the op­por­tu­nity to re­turn to her senses, I be­lieve she would have cho­sen on her own to re­sume med­i­cal treat­ment for her brain ill­ness.

Now I’ve grown to un­der­stand: We don’t want to live in a so­ci­ety where a judge or doc­tor can strap us down and med­i­cate us against our will.

Or do we?

When Bierl wouldn’t take shel­ter on dan­ger­ously cold nights, po­lice would take him into cus­tody. That seems rea­son­able. If po­lice could have got­ten to him this time, they might have saved his life.

But if you have rights and rea­sons and free will, should po­lice be al­lowed to ar­rest you for what they’ve de­cided is in your own best in­ter­est?

As dif­fi­cult as it is to ac­cept, I get it. Still, if we could’ve some­how got­ten my mom back on her meds, she wouldn’t have ended up liv­ing in a room­ing house, then in a car, then flop­ping on strangers’ couches.

“We don’t want to live in a so­ci­ety where a judge ... can strap us down.”

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