Wednesday, March 28, 2012

What Do We Owe Ourselves? What Do We Owe Each Other?

Lately I've been thinking a lot about freedom and welfare. Freedom, meaning the ability of individuals to self determine--for good or ill--the path their life will take, irrespective of how the choices they make effect the wider community. Welfare, as I conceive it, refers to the state of general well-being of the individual, and the society at whole. In both of these definitions I assume the truth of Intersectionality theory, and the blueprint version of morality proposed by Sam Harris in his book The Moral Landscape.

The shelter I work for, Cincinnati's Drop Inn Center, is in the process of planning a public forum to discuss this issue, for the reasons I highlighted in this piece. From both the welfare and freedom perspective, our social safety net is in need of mending.

But the balance is difficult. On the one hand, it is hard to expect a person with mental illness to reach their full pre-morbid potential (or highest point on their individual moral landscape), if their judgement is clouded or harassed by mental illness. On the other hand, to what degree is it appropriate for the system at large to intervene in the lives of individuals in order to improve their well-being? Are freedom and good synonymous?

I can imagine scenarios that cut both ways. Two quick examples:

Scenario 1:

A man believes there are demons in the walls of his apartment. This causes him a lot of psychic stress. He refuses to take his medication because voices tell him not to. He is in danger of abandoning his apartment, and returning to the shelter  & legal system, or perhaps dropping out of the system altogether.

According to Ohio law, there is a point at which the court system can mandate that this man take his medication. This point would be reached if the man could be determined to be of threat to himself or others. But law in this case does not take into account the inevitable chain reaction that will set in if this man is left in the grips of his mental illness. It also doesn't take into account the overall issue of quality of life and general well being.

Scenario 2:

A woman with mild bipolar disorder has decided to manager her illness by herself, without the aid of medicine or talk therapy with a credentialed provider (a much overlooked and important element). She has peaks and valleys, and people who are tuned in to her notice her cycle pattern. Overall she does manage, however. She is not operating on a peak of well being, but who consistently is? If we find a point on the measuring stick past 'harm to self or others' that we decide is an appropriate intervention mark, what point would that be, and what would prevent us from then going 'too far'?

These are all questions that Drop Inn Center hopes will be addressed during our public forum, tentatively slated for late September, early October. There is still time to have your voice heard by the planning committee if you have any kind of thoughts, suggestions, or concerns about our project. If you would like to support Drop Inn Center in funding this and other similar events, I encourage you to donate here.

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