Thursday, April 19, 2007

Letting Cho go

The NY Post wonders how the Commonwealth of Virginia could let VT murderer Cho Seung-Hui free back in December 2005. He had been seized by police and had a psychological evaluation that found probable cause that Cho was a threat to himself. It did not find that he was a threat to others (even though the reason for the psych eval was complaints from two VT co-eds who he had stalked both on campus and on-line). The finding that he constituted a threat to himself SHOULD have been enough to keep him hospitalized in a psychiatric institution, but he was only held one night and released as an outpatient.

That's right -- a young man who had been certified as severely mentally ill was released on his own recognizance. And there's no provision for punishing the patient if he fails to follow through on the treatment, unlike probation officers and their duties for probationers who fail to report.

The finding that Cho was a threat to himself is the second-highest level of danger. It is a basis for forced institutionalization in many states, even in famously liberal New York. And once someone reaches that status, the line between a danger to self and a danger to others becomes vague, if not nonexistent. After all, if you have no regard for your own life, your respect for others' lives will dissipate.

Worse yet, the detention order signed by the Virginia court that conducted his commitment hearing held that probable cause existed to find Cho "'is mentally ill and in need of hospitalization, and presents an imminent danger to self or others as a result of mental illness, or is seriously mentally ill as to be substantially unable to care for' himself" according to this article in the LA Times. Releasing Cho after one night's evaluation in the face of such a judicial finding is simple incompetence.

Yes, the mental health law will change in Virginia, and it should allow more institutionalization for mentally ill residents. And the state will be sued. And the doctors who let Cho go in 2005 will be fired.

And perhaps the universities will rethink their anti-gun rules. One other student or professor in Norris Hall with a firearm could have saved dozens of lives by confronting Cho.

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