Friday, 6 March 2009
Sarah Palin and the rights of children under state care
There is an ongoing lawsuit in an Alaska Superior Court seeking to stop the de facto forced medication of children under the state's care - foster kids, juvenile detainees - and children covered under state health programs with psychiatric medications. Named as defendants are the State of Alaska, Governor Sarah Palin and a host of officials with various state agencies. The suit was filed by Psych Rights, the Alaska-based mental health law project, which has vigorously fought the forced drugging of adults in the state's psychiatric hospital.
In 2006 Psych Rights succeeded in a lawsuit regarding the administering of drugs to adults in state psychiatric institutions against their will. In a historic and precedent-setting decision, the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed that the forced administration of psychotropic drugs to patients is unconstitutional. The Court made this recommendation:
"In order to make informed decisions possible, the law requires treatment facilities to give their patients certain information concerning their situation and need for treatment, including advice about: their diagnosis; proposed medications, including possible side effects and interactions with other drugs; their medical history; alternative treatments; and a statement describing their right to give or withhold consent."
In February 2008, before filing the present lawsuit, Jim Gottstein wrote to Sarah Palin on behalf of Psych Rights:
"It is a huge betrayal of trust for the State to take custody of children and youth and then subject them to such harmful, often life-ruining, drugs. They have almost always already been subjected to abuse or otherwise had very difficult lives before the State assumes custody, and then saddles them with a mental illness diagnosis and drugs them. The extent of this State inflicted child abuse is an emergency and should be corrected immediately. Children and youth are virtually always forced to take these drugs because, with rare exception, it is not their choice. Psych Rights believes the children and youth, themselves, have the legal right to not be subject to such harmful treatment at the hands of the State of Alaska. We are therefore evaluating what legal remedies might be available to them. However, instead of going down that route, it would be my great preference to be able to work together to solve this problem. It is for this reason that I am reaching out to you again on this issue."
Gottstein got a mealy-mouthed answer to this letter from an agency head, but there's no indication that Palin ever saw the letter. There was no response from her office.
In his filing, Gottstein notes that over 4,500 Alaska children and teens were being given various psych meds under the state's Medicaid program. The filing consists of 73 pages and I'm not going to go into the fine details here.
What bugs me is that Sarah Palin and all the other co-defendants didn't accept Gottstein's offer to work together to resolve the matter and chose to defend a lawsuit instead.
Taking into account Gottstein's victory in 2006, I would say this is an open and shut case. Or is it?
Choosing to defend the suit says a lot about the defendants. They must see children under state care as not having the same rights as adults, if any, and hope to be able to continue the abhorrent practice of dispensing powerful drugs to an extremely vulnerable group without any form of consent.
It remains to be seen what status these young people will be accorded under Alaskan law.
Article about lawsuit here.
2006 Court ruling here.
Article about 2006 case here.
Present case filing here. (It takes a while to load, be patient if you're curious)