It’s no surprise that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is a big fan of religious freedom, especially the freedom to keep gays from getting married and the freedom to keep sluts from getting abortions. But it turns out that fundagelical Christans aren’t the only people he has faith-time with — Abbott was also happy to veto a mental health bill last month, largely at the urging of the Church of Scientology, which isn’t even the least bit Jesus-y. Maybe they promised to keep Texas clear of Thetans during Jade Helm 15.
The Texas Tribune reports that Senate Bill 359, which would have allowed doctors to order a four-hour emergency hold for patients they believed would be a danger to themselves or others, was that rare thing in Texas: a law that had broad bipartisan support in the Lege, with support from law enforcement, mental health advocates, and doctors. That almost never happens in Texas; if anything, Abbott probably should have signed it to protect an endangered species.
Intended to provide a window of protection for doctors who sometimes find themselves choosing between illegally holding mentally ill patients and letting them leave with the real possibility they might be a danger to themselves or the community, the legislation would have allowed hospitals to retain patients for up to four hours, allowing law enforcement to arrive and evaluate the situation.
The law would have applied to a very small group of patients: people who “voluntarily seek services at a hospital or emergency department, decide to leave the facility, but the physician has determined he or she poses a potential imminent danger to self or others,” according to a letter from the presidents of the Texas Medical Association and the Texas Society of Psychiatric Physicians. But it almost certainly would have saved lives of people who might otherwise commit suicide.
Abbott vetoed the bill after receiving a scary letter signed by a “coalition” of groups led by Scientology’s anti-psychiatry front group, the “Citizens Commission on Human Rights,” which is dedicated to explaining that there is no such thing as mental illness, except for the ones caused by psychiatrists and all their crazy-making drugs. These are the nice people behind the exceedingly weird “museum” in Los Angeles called “Psychiatry: An Industry of Death.” Among other charming pronouncements, the CCHR likes to inform people that there’s “zero amount of proof that schizophrenia exists as a singular mental illness” and that psychiatrists are the equivalent of terrorists who just want to take all your money and make you sicker, when what you really need is to give all your money to Scientology, which will make you all better.
Guess that was one very persuasive letter! Signed by the “SB 359 Veto Coalition,” the letter claimed that the bill:
threatened the “delicate balance” between providing “access to humane care and treatment for persons suffering from mental illness and safeguarding the person’s legal right.” It characterized the bill as granting “sweeping powers” to hospitals that could lead to fraudulent mental health detentions and threaten a patient’s right to refuse medical care.
Wouldn’t want to infringe on freedom, so Abbott vetoed the bill.
The really weird part? The CCHR actually managed to get other groups to sign onto its “coalition,” not that they told any of them they were backing Scientology. Not surprisingly, there were some groups you’d expect to support pseudoscientific woo: the Texas Home School Coalition; an anti-vaxxer group called Parents Requesting Open Vaccine Education; and a libertarian group that opposes water fluoridation, Texans for Accountable Government. But somehow, the coalition also included the League of United Latin American Citizens, whose deputy state director, Marcelo Tafoya, worried that the bill would allow cops to detain Latinos out of pure racism:
People in emergency rooms are “yelling and screaming and carrying on because nobody is taking care of them,” Tafoya said. He said that he was worried that under the bill, “anybody there could claim that these people are hallucinogenic or have problems and turn them in, which to us is completely wrong.”
Honestly, that might be a valid worry in some cases, maybe? But the upshot is that people who really are suicidal are more likely to not get care that could save their lives, and it sounds to us like Tafoya got played by the Scientologists.
After Abbott’s veto, Texas Medical Association President Tom Garcia issued a statement:
The governor should have reached out to physicians and other medical personnel who provide care in the real world of our emergency rooms before vetoing this legislation. They would have told him about the patients they encounter who pose a real danger to themselves or to those around them.
Garcia added that for all the fear-mongering about vulnerable people being grabbed up by cops, the bill actually “would have saved lives, provided short-term help for people with mental illness and actually would have kept some of them out of forced imprisonment.”
So hooray, Scientology has made it easier for dangerously mentally ill people — and this is where we repeat that most people with mental illness aren’t dangerous, but a very few are — can just walk out of an ER or clinic, even if a doctor believes they may be likely to kill themselves or others. But that’s probably no big deal. It’s Texas, after all, and if people want protection, they can always get a gun.