Public Comment

Re: The Berkeley Hills Murder Could Have Been Predicted

By Christian Stauduhar
Thursday March 01, 2012 - 03:04:00 PM

Other than the title of the editorial, which I don't think expresses what you meant to say, this is certainly the most thoughtful and well composed piece that I have seen written in the BDP. I think you meant to say that 'this sort of thing is predictable', not that it 'could have been predicted'; the title you chose is inaccurate and has an inflammatory feeling.It is clearly predictable that there will be fatalities when cars are driven, but a particular fatality is not predictable based on that knowledge alone. 

I would also like to point out that you give the impression that violent crimes are committed are more frequently by the mentally ill than the general population, which I believe is wholly unsupported by the evidence, and buys into a common myth. The fact that a person has an untreated mental illness is not a 'predictor' of a tendency towards violent crime. 

There is one thing that you did not touch upon, which I think is important to point out, and that is the complication which arises due to the age of onset of this particular disease. Schizophrenia tends to show itself just as the afflicted enters adulthood. That fact makes treatment difficult, since they can no longer be legally compelled to follow the practices which are most likely to help them manage the disease. 

The only solution that I have been able to devise is one that is not without problems of its own, but may be better than the current system. I believe that we— all of us, sufferers and the public—may be better off if the law would allow for the hospitalization and treatment of people, who are diagnosed schizophrenics, for a period of time (as short as possible, while long enough to allow for the possibility that effective treatment may be given a chance to work) when they are of an age that falls within the window of typical onset. Without such a scheme, we simply allow these sufferers to fall through the cracks because of the peculiar nature of the development of the disease and the age we have chosen to grant adult rights. The age of onset, the paranoia that is often part of the disease, as well as the stress that most all people feel at that stage of life, conspire against the sufferer and society at large, to make a solution difficult. 

As a society, we make exceptions to the adulthood rule. Drinking is not legal (in California) until the age of 21. We don't encounter much resistance to this law, so I offer that as proof that adulthood is not sacrosanct. I take least lightly of all, those laws which would seek to allow the state or other persons in positions of power, the opportunity to abuse the free right of individuals to live their lives as they choose, without specific regard for the approval of others, or a need for them to understand in the slightest, the choices that an individual makes, so I don't suggest this lightly. On the other hand, the age of adulthood is arbitrarily chosen and applied as if humans were all cut from the same mold. There are good reasons for this model, in terms of civil rights, but we may wish to modify this model to create a window for the transition to adulthood that recognizes the particular difficulties encountered by those afflicted with certain illnesses. This exception should be focused and limited. Focused on providing the best help possible, as early as possible, and limited a reasonable-effort treatment period, with a concrete cutoff, both in terms of a maximum involuntary treatment period and in terms of absolute age. For example, two years maximum and age limited to thirty years old. That guarantees a limit to the time that the right to full adulthood is suspended, and allows for a full good faith effort to be made. 

By all accounts, the afflicted person in this saga comes from a good and caring home, had a fine education, and was regarded by those who came in contact with him as a kind, sweet individual until he began to be symptomatic. Do we abandon such a person? No, I believe we can do better.