ALBUQUERQUE, NM – The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of New Mexico has filed a lawsuit against the New Mexico Children’s Psychiatric Hospital (NMCPH) for violating LeGina and Todd Thomases right to direct the care and upbringing of their 12-year-old daughter. The Thomases allege that the hospital mistakenly diagnosed their daughter as severely mentally ill, and threatened to have the state take custody of her if they did not approve administration of strong psychotropic drugs intended for adults.
“While psychiatrists can provide valuable insight, the decision of whether a young child is exposed to potentially dangerous psychotropic drugs should be the parents’,” says ACLU-NM Managing Attorney Laura Schauer Ives. “In this case, doctors attempted to usurp the Thomases’ right to make major medical decisions for their daughter because the parents disagreed that medication should be the first line of treatment. Insisting that doctors exhaust other treatment options before administering powerful psychotropic drugs does not make parents incompetent. It means they care about their child and want what’s best for her.”
In April 2010, LeGina and Todd Thomas’s daughter was referred to NMCPH in connection with a police investigation into the possibility that an older boy had inappropriate sexual contact with her. The doctors diagnosed her with schizophrenia, borderline personality disorder and severe depression. They insisted that she receive strong psychotropic medications, some of which carry the FDA’s “black box” label warning that they may increase risk of suicide.
The Thomases’ daughter had no previous history of mental illness. Both the police and the Thomases were skeptical of the daughter’s claims that she was suicidal and experiencing hallucinations, believing that she was trying to distract them from pressing charges against the boy she may have had sex with. The Thomases declined the medications for their daughter, insisting that doctors exhaust less extreme treatment options, including counseling, before administering serious drugs.
In response, NMCPH placed an emergency medical hold on the Thomases’ daughter, asserting that the parents were not competent to make medical decisions on her behalf. Two days later, an NMCPH nurse prohibited Mrs. Thomson from talking with her daughter after she had been attacked by another psychiatric patient and suffered a minor head wound. Soon thereafter, NMCPH filed to have the daughter involuntarily committed to their care.
However, on May 5, 2010, the NMCPH received notice from the Thomases’ insurance carrier that the daughter’s stay would no longer be covered. NMCPH immediately dropped all efforts to commit her involuntarily and instructed the Thomases to retrieve their daughter from the hospital before her insurance coverage ended.
The daughter subsequently confessed to her parents that she had faked her symptoms of mental illness and apologized. In the two intervening years, she has exhibited no further behavioral problems and has continued to excel in school.
“No other family should have to endure the nightmare we did,” says LeGina Thomas. “We knew our daughter had just told a lie that snowballed out of control, but no one would listen to us. Instead they tried to take her away from us and drug her up.”
The plaintiffs are suing NMCPH for punitive and compensatory damages for First Amendment retaliation, and violating the Thomases right to familial association, direct care and upbringing of a child.
The legal complaint was filed in U.S. District Court by ACLU-NM Managing Attorney Laura Schauer Ives and Co-Legal Directors Matthew Garcia and Maureen Sanders.
A full copy of the legal complaint can be found here: Thomas v. NMCPH
CONTACT: Micah McCoy, (505) 266-5915 x1003 or [email protected]