Worthy of support: Murphy’s mental health bill faces the critics

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U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy, the Republican from Upper St. Clair who is a clinical psychologist, has been hailed in the press for undertaking the most comprehensive reform in years of the nation’s ailing mental health system. His legislation, the product of a yearlong investigation, addresses the problem of better treating the subset of mentally people who may commit violence, especially with firearms.

But on Thursday, House Bill 3717 — the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act — had its most important legislative hearing to date before the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health and this time the praise was disputed by some mental health advocates. Is that a problem?

Not necessarily, because controversy is to be expected. Such a reform is bound to offend some mental health advocacy organizations that will lose funding under the Murphy bill, which does reallocate money for the purpose of better utilizing resources. Although their point of view needs to be considered, it should not be considered the last word. Other experts in the field unequivocally favor the bill.

At the hearing, alarm was expressed over efforts to force mentally ill patients to get treatment. While patients’ rights are worthy of respect, there are some cases in which patients can’t be their own advocates. This was pointed out Friday in a poignant letter to the editor of the Post-Gazette from a reader in Richland who supports the Murphy bill. Her mentally ill son killed her mother because he didn’t meet the “imminent danger” standard for treatment.

Mr. Murphy’s bill would help in situations like that — and do much other good besides. The note of controversy struck last week should not be the legislation’s death knell. Congress needs to advance HB 3717 and Democrats need to help.

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