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New Mexico Debates Over Forcing Mentally Ill People To Seek Treatment

The recent spate of killings by mentally ill people in the United States has revived the debate as to whether such people should be forced to seek treatment even if they have not committed any crime. Lawmakers in New Mexico are preparing// to argue about a bill that seeks to compel mentally ill people into seeking treatment for their condition.

Gov. Bill Richardson has conveyed his support for the Bill and were it to be approved, this would become the 43rd state to back a law that allows family members, doctors or concerned relatives to get a court order to force mentally ill people into seeking treatment. If the patients refuse treatment, the law says that they can be confined in a hospital. Backers of this law say that overhauling the mental health system would ensure that patients can get treatment so that they do not harm themselves or others in future. "We are talking about a small group of people who do not get help because they don't want help or know they need help," said Mary T. Zdanowicz, executive director of the Treatment Advocacy Center. But others say that the new laws contravene civil rights of the people. They point to the fact that in California administrators have been unable to find the money to pay for the treatment even after passing this law. The proposal to implement Kendra's law was voiced in New Mexico after a deranged Albuquerque man shot dead five people in August. The law takes its name from Kendra Webdale, who was pushed in front of a train by a schizophrenic in 1999. State Representative Joni Marie Gutierrez said that the bill would help hopeless mental cases as well, "A lot of families have been keeping this under wraps and trying to take care of loved ones on their own," she said. "They don't have the legal means to petition the court for treatment."

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