Tuesday, March 12, 2013
Lives We Do Not Save
The young man may have mingled briefly in the lobby of the luxury hotel. He may not have slept well at home. His mother had sought medical help for him, but even with the help of 911 responders, no hospital bed could be found for him. He was sent home. Wandering the hotel lobby, he may have helped himself to the coffee and pastries set out for early risers, or looked into the solarium where breakfast soon will be served. He eventually made his way to the elevator, or perhaps climbed the stairs. He stopped at one of the highest floors. While the pampered guests in the lobby read their papers, he threw himself out of a window and plunged to his death. His grieving mother testified this week before our state legislature during a debate over funding for psychiatric detention beds so that the existing involuntary commitment law could be enforced. There is agreement about the need, but little evident support for the money. Public health officials warn that more beds would require more funding, and might short change other programs. We don't talk this way about medical services for heart attack patients. We don't even conside a "do nothing" alternative for those whose bodies are mangled in a car crash. Had the young man survived his desperate fall, we would have provided the necessary care for his physical injuries. His psychotic break was every bit as life threatening. But because it is a "mental illness" he did not receive the life saving treatment he needed.