Mandatory Mental Health Screening Threatens Privacy, Parental Rights

Email Print
FacebookTwitterShare

On
Sept. 9, the ‘Ron
Paul Amendment’
was defeated in the House of Representatives
by a vote of 95-315.

The
Amendment would have prevented the funds sought by an appropriations
bill (HR 5006) from being used for the mandatory mental-health screening
of Americans, including public schoolchildren.

Rep.
Ron Paul, R-Texas, a practicing physician for more than 30 years,
campaigned
against
the new program on the grounds that it negates parental
rights and would encourage the over-medication of children.

Prior
to the House vote, Paul had vehemently denounced
mandatory mental-health screening
in a letter to fellow congressmen.

Paul
wrote, “[P]sychotropic drugs are increasingly prescribed for children
who show nothing more than children’s typical rambunctious behavior.
Many children have suffered harmful effects from these drugs. Yet
some parents have even been charged with child abuse for refusing
to drug their children. The federal government should not promote
national mental-health screening programs that will force the use
of these psychotropic drugs such as Ritalin.”

The
idea of nationally screening school children for mental health stems
from the establishment of the New
Freedom Commission on Mental Health
in 2002. Its mission is
to “promote successful community integration for adults with a serious
mental illness and children with a serious emotional disturbance.”

The
commission conducted a “comprehensive study of the…health service
delivery system,” which found mental health problems to be under-diagnosed.

A
2004 progress
report
outlines the government’s plan to assist those with disabilities,
including mental health problems. The government intends to use
government agencies and services – such as transportation, housing,
and education “to tear down the remaining barriers to full integration
[of the disabled] into American life.”

Thus,
as WorldNetDaily
reports, the commission’s panel “recommended comprehensive mental
health screening for ‘consumers of all ages,’ including preschool
children…Schools, the panel concluded, are in a ‘key position’
to screen the 52 million students and 6 million adults who work
at the schools.”

The
public schools would address “the mental health needs of youth in
the education system” through “prevention, early identification,
early intervention, and treatment.” How early?

Many
practical objections
have been offered to the mental screening of the 52 million students
and the 6 million adults at schools.

  • Mental
    health diagnoses are subjective and, to be of value, must be
    formed by trained professionals who test and observe subjects
    over time. The expense and magnitude of screening 58 million
    people means diagnoses are likely to be made quickly and by
    poorly trained people.
  • The
    criteria for diagnosing mental disabilities such as Attention
    Deficit Disorder (ADD) are vague and a matter of heated debate
    within the medical community itself.

  • Political
    pressure can make schools prone to over-apply social programs,
    especially when they are connected to the continuation of funding.

  • Medicating
    children for behavioral problems could easily become a form
    of social control. That is, school authorities could use medication
    to prevent behavior of which they simply disapproved, such as
    rebelliousness.

  • The
    screenings may be used to force parents to put their children
    on psychiatric medication. Some parents who have refused to
    do so under current policies have been threatened or charged
    with “child
    abuse”
    for no other reason than their refusal.

  • Many
    of the psychiatric medications administered to children have
    been only approved for and tested on adults. The long-term effect
    on developing children has yet to be determined.

  • The
    known side
    effects
    can be severe. Indeed, at least two
    deaths
    have been attributed to prescribing Ritalin to children.

Critics
also raise matters of principle. First and foremost is the question
of parental
rights
. It is not clear what rights – if any – parents preserve
over the medical treatment of their children. Will they be threatened
with the removal of their child if they refuse to place a son or
daughter on Ritalin?

Will
children who resist medication be expelled from a school that is
supported by their parents’ taxes? If so, the government seems to
be telling parents that education is a privilege for which parents
must not only pay but for which they must also surrender medical
control over their children.

And
what of medical privacy rights? It defies credibility that psychiatric
records on tens of millions of school children would be covered
by anything resembling patient-doctor confidentiality. Public school
records that include intimate details of medical history may well
follow children into adulthood.

Accusations
have also been voiced: specifically, that the program is driven
by political-pharmaceutical alliances that benefits drug companies.

Critics
point to the fact that the Texas
Medication Algorithm Project
(TMAP) has been used as a model
program.

But,
according to whistleblower Allen
Jones
, an employee of the Pennsylvania Office of the Inspector
General, TMAP promotes “a comprehensive national policy to treat
mental illness with expensive, patented medications of questionable
benefit and deadly side effects, and to force private insurers to
pick up more of the tab.”

The
bill
has moved onto the Senate, where it will be heard before the end
of the year.

Even
for those who advocate the medication of problem children, this
measure contains too many uncertainties and possibilities of abuse.

Hopefully,
the Senate will find a champion to call out for an amendment similar
to that proposed by Rep. Ron Paul.

September
16, 2004

Wendy
McElroy [send her mail] is
the editor of ifeminists.com
and a research fellow for The Independent Institute in Oakland,
Calif. She is the author and editor of many books and articles,
including the new book, Liberty
for Women: Freedom and Feminism in the 21st Century

(Ivan R. Dee/Independent Institute, 2002).

Wendy
McElroy Archives

Email Print
FacebookTwitterShare