Volume 29, Issue 1 (January 1984)
Management of Forensic Psychiatry Patients Who Refuse Medication—Two Scenarios
An Ohio federal court set Wyatt-type standards for treatment rights of forensic psychiatry patients and ordered legal due process-type hospital hearings to protect patients from what the court considers harmful clinical practices. Experience with this legal method for management of patients who refuse medication is examined for its impact on staff and patient care. Under legal pressure Ohio has built new regional forensic psychiatry hospitals. In one, spurred by legal activism, the prevalence of patients refusing medication has become pandemic. In its typical 16-bed ward, when 2 or more patients refuse medication, danger escalates rapidly for patients and staff. The method adopted to manage these situations is to assess the emergency of danger to patient or others, and if warranted to administer medication despite objections. This emergency management is dramatic in improving patient behavior and defusing milieu tensions. The psychiatrist ordering emergency management, however, faces challenges from several quarters—patient advocates, outside patients' rights legal advocates, and the commissioner of mental health. The clinically managed process contrasts markedly also with the legally imposed one in its impact on the personal and professional integrity of the responsible psychiatrist. Both scenarios illustrate the task yet remaining—integration of the clinical and legal concerns into a multisystem resolution of diverse interests, values, ethics, and rights.