FOR IMMIDIATE RELEASE
August 6, 2008
CONTACT: (505) 266-5915 ext. 1003
ALBUQUERQUE— Yesterday, the New Mexico Court of Appeals struck down a city ordinance, affirming an earlier ruling, that would have empowered the city of Albuquerque to forcibly medicate people with mental illnesses. The Assisted Outpatient Treatment Law (AOT) conflicted with state laws that require patient consent before treatment. This decision is a tremendous victory – upholding civil liberties in New Mexico.
Protection and Advocacy System, Inc., the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico (ACLU), and The Law Offices of Peter Cubra initially sued the City in 2006, alleging that AOT subjects people with mental illness to potentially invasive treatment regimens based upon speculation that they might become dangerous.
“The Court of Appeals made clear that all people have the right to make decisions about their mental health care and that state law identifies the circumstances and creates the process by which people with mental illness may be forced to accept mental health treatment, both in and out of treatment facilities. In addition, the Court affirms the right of people with mental illness, when they have capacity, to make advance directives for mental health treatment and have them honored,” said Nancy Koenigsberg, legal director of Protection and Advocacy System.
AOT, also known as Kendra’s Law, grants judges the authority to require people receiving mental health services to take psychiatric drugs, regularly undergo psychiatric treatment, or both. Failure to comply could result in the patient’s being committed to an institution for up to 72 hours.
“The decision was not based on some arcane turn of the law,” said Peter Simonson, executive director of the ACLU of New Mexico. “The court found that the city ordinance directly conflicted with the legislature’s desire to preserve some basic rights for people with mental illness and the way those protections were written into state law. In the wake of this decision, the city should work with the legislature to channel resources into services for people with mental illness and abandon the tack of denying basic liberties.”
In October 2006, Second District Court judge Valerie Huling struck down the law writing that the ordinance was “inconsistent with the statutorily recognized right of a competent mentally ill person to refuse consent to treatment,” including psychotropic medications, electroshock therapy, and other invasive procedures. She also ruled that the ordinance was in “direct conflict” with a state law that “broadly recognizes a right in competent individuals to make health care decisions.”
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The mission of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of New Mexico is to maintain and advance the cause of civil liberties within the state of New Mexico, with particular emphasis on the freedom of religion, speech, press, association, and assemblage, and the right to vote, due process of law and equal protection of law, and to take any legitimate action in the furtherance and defense of such purposes. These objectives shall be sought wholly without political partisanship.
The Protection and Advocacy System (P&A) is a private, non-profit organization which protects and promotes the rights of people with disabilities in New Mexico. Founded in 1979 and authorized through federal law and an Executive Order of the Governor, P&A is the state’s only legal rights center for people with disabilities. Each year, after public hearings and comment, P&A sets priorities for the cases and disability problems it will address. Visit http://www.nmpanda.org/index2.htm