Jay Lake (jaylake) wrote,
Jay Lake
jaylake

Tugging at a difficult question

Over in jlassen's journal, we're talking about the Miami airport shooting. I responded with a comment which might get me thrown out of the good liberal's club, to wit:

Ya know, I consider myself pretty much a raging liberal, but I'd stop cold and hit the deck if a cop drew down on me and shouted for me to do so. If need be, my attorney could sort it out later. Assuming the story as currently reported is true (*big* assumption these days), I'm not actually overwhelmed with sympathy for someone who shouts they have a bomb, flees from the police, then reaches into their bag when told to hit the deck by armed officers. Maybe this will get me thrown out of the good liberal club, but what the hell are the cops supposed to do? Speculate the guy might be off his meds, and wait and see if he really does have a bomb?

profane_stencil responded:

And what the hell was he supposed to do? Magically have his meds take effect? Suddenly become rational?

The discussion continues apace over there.

But this reminds of when John du Pont shot wrestler David Schultz in 1996. Du Pont's defense amounted to, in effect, "I was off my meds." It seems quite possible the Miami shooting victim was off his meds. My discussion of what this means within the context of the incident is over at the other journal.

But here's the difficult question: I have a lot of trouble with that as a reasonable defense. Undiagnosed mental illness or disability is one thing, but someone who has access to treatment, and has that treatment available to them, and decides not to participate in their treatment, is making an affirmative decision which has specific, known consequences -- expressions of irrational behavior being one, if you happen to be bipolar or paranoid-schizophrenic, for example. (Running out of your meds is an affirmative decision, too, btw -- there are pharmacies everywhere, and every pill bottle has the number of pills within clearly printed on the label. I say this as someone who takes daily prescription meds myself.)

Are people responsible for their own mental health? "I was drunk" isn't a defense for yelling "fire" in a crowded theatre. (Running from the cops after making a bomb threat on an airplane is an act analogous to yelling fire.) Why should "I was off my meds" be a defense?

On the one hand, I feel like I'm setting myself up as a heartless bastard for holding this viewpoint. On the other hand, if we're not each responsible for our own behavior, how can we construct a rational, compassionate society?
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