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Mental Commitment – insufficient evidence to show “proper subject for treatment”

Fond du Lac County v. Helen E. F., 2011 WI App 72(recommended for publication), affirmed 2012 WI 50; for Helen E.F.: Donald T. Lang, SPD, Madison Appellate; case activity

Alzheimer’s disease is not a qualifying mental condition for purposes of ch. 51 commitment, therefore Helen E.F. is not a proper subject for treatment as a matter of law. The disease is a degenerative brain disorder, which is by definition excluded from ch. 51 but included within ch. 55 (protective placement). Moreover, Alzheimer’s disease falls  outside the definition of “treatment,” § 51.01(17), because an individual afflicted with the disease can’t be “rehabilitated.”

¶32      Athans is very much on point.  Like Athans and Haskins, Helen has a condition that cannot be rehabilitated; thus, like Athans and Haskins, Helen is not suitable for Wis. Stat. ch. 51 treatment.  See Athans, 107 Wis. 2d at 335-37.

¶33      Finally, the legislative scheme concerning involuntary civil commitment supports our holding today, just as strongly as it supported our holding in Athans.  See id. at 337. Wisconsin Stat. ch. 51 provides for active treatment for those who are proper subjects for treatment, while Wis. Stat. ch. 55 provides for residential care and custody of those persons with mental disabilities that are likely to be permanent.  See Athans, 107 Wis. 2d at 337.  With the ever-growing Alzheimer’s population, “[t]he distinction between these two statutes must be recognized and maintained.”  See id.

¶34      Helen is not a proper subject for treatment under Wis. Stat. ch. 51.  We therefore reverse the orders and remand with instructions to proceed not inconsistently with this opinion.[7]

(The court leaves open the question of whether a dual diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease and a ch. 51 qualifying disease might support ch. 51 commitment, fn. 7.)

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