Sunday, January 02, 2005

More on Judge Van Sickle

Tomorrow's New York Times has an article on this poignant case about which I posted a couple of weeks ago. A few excerpts:

A retired federal judge who has dementia and lives in a nursing home is at the center of a legal debate that could have a far-reaching effect on the care of patients with Alzheimer's disease.

More than 20 years ago, Judge Bruce M. Van Sickle of United States District Court in North Dakota issued a sweeping ruling that the state's institutions for the mentally disabled were systematically violating the rights of their patients. He ordered that the disabled be moved to places where they could be given the "least restrictive" appropriate care.

One of Judge Van Sickle's sons is now asking the North Dakota Supreme Court to release him from his Bismarck nursing home so he can be given the same individual care that he once ordered for other disabled people.

* * *

The case has focused renewed attention on the landmark decision Judge Van Sickle issued in 1982 in the case of Association of Retarded Citizens v. Olson. He ruled that North Dakota was violating the constitutional rights of mentally disabled people by housing them in dirty, noisy, crowded institutions where they received little or no care. In a later ruling, he ordered changes that cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars.

State officials denounced the decisions, saying the judge had far overstepped the limits of his authority. They grudgingly complied, however, and today many agree that the decision was wise and has produced positive results. Newspapers have published extensive reports documenting the fulfilling lives that mentally disabled people are now enjoying in small group homes and other community-based settings.

The AARP has rallied to Judge Van Sickle's side with a supporting brief urging that he be released from his nursing home. The brief says that "everything known about Judge Van Sickle's life and career indicates his desire to avoid the situation in which he now finds himself."

"The limitation of visitors, use of chemical restraints in the form of psychotropic drugs, and a temporary admission to the psychiatric ward of local hospital demonstrated he was restricted by more than a security net," the brief says. "Each is a restraint on the liberty Judge Van Sickle fought so hard to protect for others."

See also this AP article on the case.


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