The fall seminar will study the delicate balance between civil liberties and government benevolence. Beginning with Buck v. Bell and concluding with surrogate decision making and the "right to die," the course will explore such issues as involuntary civil commitment, the rights of the homeless mentally ill, the propriety of psychiatric predictions of violent behavior in death penalty cases, the right to treatment, the right to refuse treatment, the regulation of experimental treatment, and, time permitting, assisted suicide. Although there is some discussion of mental disability cases involving the death penalty and incompetency to stand trial, the course focuses primarily on civil rather than criminal law issues. For those who are interested, there may also be an opportunity to examine international human rights issues as they relate to mental disabilities.
The spring seminar will focus on some of the major issues in mental health law, both civil and criminal. Particular emphasis will be placed on understanding the historical development of mental health law, given the impact of temporally contingent factors on the current shape of the law. Empirical studies of the law in action will be used to illustrate the consequences of various approaches to the problems that mental health law is meant to address. Attention will be paid to the ever-present tension between impulses to act beneficently toward persons with mental disorders on one hand, and to respect their autonomy on the other. Students will be offered an opportunity to visit a psychiatric hospital and to interact with psychiatrists and with persons with mental disorders who have experienced aspects of mental health law (e.g., civil commitment, outpatient commitment) that will be discussed in the seminar.