A former psychiatrist himself Charles Krauthammer is well qualified to take the full measure of the dereliction that allowed Aaron Alexis to go untreated.
His column about the Washington shooter is brilliant. It opens:
In the liberal remake of “Casablanca,” the police captain comes upon the scene of the shooting and orders his men to “round up the usual weapons.”
The “system,” such as it is, failed Aaron Alexis. By extension it failed his victims.
Krauthammer explains what happened:
On Aug. 7, that same Alexis had called police from a Newport, R.I., Marriott. He was hearing voices. Three people were following him, he told the cops. They were sending microwaves through walls, making his skin vibrate and preventing him from sleeping. He had already twice changed hotels to escape the men, the radiation, the voices.
Delusions, paranoid ideation, auditory (and somatic) hallucinations: the classic symptoms of schizophrenia.
So here is this panic-stricken soul, psychotic and in terrible distress. And what does modern policing do for him? The cops tell him to “stay away from the individuals that are following him.” Then they leave.
Such is the modern “enlightened” approach to mental illness. In the bad old days, before zealous civil libertarians set out to liberate paranoid schizophrenics from medical treatment, here’s what would have happened:
Had this happened 35 years ago in Boston, Alexis would have been brought to me as the psychiatrist on duty at the emergency room of the Massachusetts General Hospital. Were he as agitated and distressed as in the police report, I probably would have administered an immediate dose of Haldol, the most powerful fast-acting antipsychotic of the time.
This would generally have relieved the hallucinations and delusions, a blessing not only in itself, but also for the lucidity brought on that would have allowed him to give us important diagnostic details — psychiatric history, family history, social history, medical history, etc. If I had thought he could be sufficiently cared for by family or friends to receive regular oral medication, therapy and follow-up, I would have discharged him. Otherwise, I’d have admitted him. And if he refused, I’d have ordered a 14-day involuntary commitment.
Sounds cruel? On the contrary. For many people living on park benches, commitment means a warm bed, shelter and three hot meals a day. For Alexis, it would have meant the beginning of a treatment regimen designed to bring him back to himself before discharging him to a world heretofore madly radioactive.
Would Dr. Krauthammer have deprived Alexis of his constitutionally guaranteed freedoms? Not at all.
That’s what a compassionate society does. It would no more abandon this man to fend for himself than it would a man suffering a stroke. And as a side effect, that compassion might even extend to potential victims of his psychosis — in the event, remote but real, that he might someday burst into some place of work and kill 12 innocent people.
You might be thinking that it’s all about the availability of treatment. It’s not:
True, psychiatric care is underfunded and often scarce. But Alexis had full access to the VA system. The problem here was not fiscal but political and, yes, even moral.
I know the civil libertarian arguments. I know that involuntary commitment is outright paternalism. But paternalism is essential for children because they don’t have a fully developed rational will. Do you think Alexis was in command of his will that night in Newport?
Q. E. D.