Front Page Titles (by Subject) Mental Health Law and Autonomy - Literature of Liberty, January/March 1979, vol. 2, No. 1
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Mental Health Law and Autonomy - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, January/March 1979, vol. 2, No. 1 
Literature of Liberty: A Review of Contemporary Liberal Thought was published first by the Cato Institute (1978-1979) and later by the Institute for Humane Studies (1980-1982) under the editorial direction of Leonard P. Liggio.
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Mental Health Law and Autonomy
“Crazy Behavior, Morals, and Science: An Analysis of Mental Health Law.” Southern California Law Review 51 (May 1978): 527–654.
Mentally disordered or “crazy” behavior is a complex, debated phenomenon in the Anglo-American legal system and needs to be clarified by social, moral, logical, and scientific disciplines. This need arises because mental health laws raise perplexing questions with assumptions concerning a “crazy” person's self-responsibility, legal status, rights, and autonomy.
Specifically, mental health law adjudicates three basic questions: “Is the person normal?; Could the person have behaved otherwise?; and How will the person behave in the future?” Mental health law should primarily deal with moral and social evaluations of human conduct, and should view persons as possessed of free will with moral and legal responsibility for their actions. Law “should not treat mentally disordered persons significantly differently from nondisordered ones because there is little persuasive scientific evidence that the former have significantly less control over their legal relevant behavior or are more predictable than the latter.”
Presently, however, law usually treats mentally disordered persons as less responsible and less autonomous than “normal” persons and thus relegates the “crazy” to moral, political, and legal disadvantages. Mental health laws discriminate—without justification—by depriving some persons “of liberty, autonomy, or dignity by confining him or by negating the usual legal significance of his actions.” It is more respectful and moral to treat “crazy persons like everyone else.” Many “normal” persons behave either incompetently or dangerously and have as much or as little control over their behavior as “crazy” persons.
Little scientific evidence supports special treatment of all the “crazy” on the grounds that they cannot control themselves or be truly autonomous. Some small fraction of “crazy” people may lack fundamental control over their behavior. But, nevertheless, “in nearly all cases it will be possible to devise other means of protecting society and caring for disabled people that do not stigmatize crazy persons and deprive them of their rights.”