Civil Commitment Should Be Outlawed

The city that I live in and many other cities in the United States have multiple hospitals that have locked psychiatric wards that effectively function as jails and prisons. These hospitals should not be allowed to do this. Adults who have not broken any laws are sometimes held in these hospital wards against their will. That is, despite making a request and/or demand to leave, they are forcibly kept there using locked doors and physical force if needed. They are effectively imprisoned and jailed in these hospitals because they have been deemed to be a danger to their own self or others. This is not right.

Thomas Szasz, a psychiatrist, passed away in 2012. He wrote about thirty five books. As I understand it, he advocated for the abolishment of civil commitment and the insanity defense, and also that adults should have the right to use any drug they want. In this article, I want to simply focus on civil commitment.

I was first exposed to the writings of Thomas Szasz while working towards a bachelor’s degree in psychology. We were assigned to read his essay The Myth of Mental Illness. He published this article in 1960 and he later expanded it into a book by the same name and published that in 1961.

An adult who wants to end their own life should be allowed to do so. This does not mean that suicide is morally right or good. Certainly, non-forceful persuasion should be used to try and stop someone from engaging in suicide. However, using force is not right to do. To die or not to die is a moral/ethical, existential and/or theological issue, psychiatrists and hospitals should not have the right medicalize suicide and to literally force their own medicalized views about these existential, theological and moral issues onto others.

Chattel slavery was legal in the United States until about 1865. Psychiatrist Thomas Szasz wrote a book called Psychiatric Slavery. He notes that civil commitment and the insanity defense together create psychiatric slavery. The majority of humans do not question the justifications for civil commitment. It seems that there was a time when majorities did not question the morality of the justifications for chattel slavery. Thomas Szasz has written thousands of words about why civil commitment should be outlawed.

Psychiatric and psychological professionals are financially profiting from locking up law abiding adults against their expressed desire. I do condemn psychiatric coercion and force; and because of this, metaphorically, I feel sort of like I am currently living in the pro slavery south in the early 1800’s. However, instead of a North and South divide (like with chattel slavery), most of the whole country tacitly or actively supports psychiatric slavery and oppression.

With regards to civil commitment for those who are a danger to others, if someone is really a physical danger to someone else, and it can be proven they are planning, plotting and intending to harm someone, then they have broken a law as I understand it. When this happens, the individual who can be proven to be a danger to someone else should be dealt with in the criminal justice system, not the quasi-medical psychiatric system.

Of course, just like your views might change on these potentially controversial issues, mine might too, but they probably will not. I want all humans to live meaningful and fulfilling lives. I support using persuasion, kindness and reason to reduce suicides among adults, just not coercion, confinement and force. I want perfect happiness for all humans including myself; and existentially/metaphysically and in theory, I do not think that that is an unrealistic goal to seek. However, I simply do not believe that using force and coercion to lock someone in a hospital is the moral nor practical way to go about manifesting this. If it were, I do not think that a psychiatric survivor movement would exist. So, to try and keep this relatively short and hopefully sweet, I hope that you will let your legislators and others know that you support outlawing civil commitment; I hope that you will support outlawing civil commitment and I hope that you, your friends, family and so forth live long, meaningful and authentically peaceful lives.