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Is a person with schizophrenia a “proper subject for treatment” under Chapter 51?

Sheboygan County v. J.L.H., 2016AP461, District 2, 11/9/16;(1-judge opinion, ineligible for publication); case activity

This case  raises an issue now pending in SCOW: what makes someone a “proper subject for treatment” under §51.20(1)? J.L.H. has schizophrenia, intermittent explosive disorder, and a mental disability. There is no dispute that he is mentally ill and dangerous to himself. The question is whether he is “proper subject for treatment” given that medication only controls his symptoms; it does not treat his illness.  According to the court of appeals . . .

¶3 . . . To be a proper subject for treatment, an individual must be capable of rehabilitation. Fond du Lac Cty. v. Helen E.F., 2012 WI 50, ¶30, 340 Wis. 2d 500, 814 N.W.2d 179. Despite J.L.H.’s insistence otherwise, rehabilitation includes controlling the symptoms of mental illness even if the underlying disorder is incurable. See C.J. v. State, 120 Wis. 2d 355, 360, 354 N.W.2d 219 (Ct. App. 1984) (“An individual with an incurable physical or mental illness or disability may still be considered capable of rehabilitation and able to benefit from treatment in the sense that symptoms can be controlled and the ability to manage the illness ameliorated.”)

Rehabilitation is the action of restoring someone to good health and a normal life. Common sense suggests that means more than just controlling symptoms.  See our Helen E.F. post here. In a footnote, the court of appeals states that it must follow C.J.’s definition unless and until it is modified by Waukesha County v. J.W.J., now before SCOW. Like this case, J.W.J. asks how the “proper subject for treatment” standard applies to someone with schizophrenia.  According to Helen E.F.:

¶36 . . . If treatment will “maximize[e] the[] individual functioning and maintenance” of the subject, but not “help[] in controlling or improving their disorder[],” then the subject individual does not have rehabilitative potential, and is not a proper subject for treatment. C.J., 120 Wis.2d at 362, 354 N.W.2d 219. However, if treatment will “go beyond controlling… activity” and will “go to controlling [the] disorder and its symptoms,” then the subject individual has rehabilitative potential, and is a proper subject for treatment.

J.W.J. argues that the Helen E.F. test is confusing, contradictory and unworkable. Hopefully SCOW will tweak the test so that it is easier for lawyers and judges to apply.

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