The New Neurobiology of Severe Psychiatric Disorders and Its Implications for Laws Governing Involuntary Commitment and Treatment


Medical advances have led to statutory changes and common law overrulings. This paper argues that such changes are now needed for laws governing the involuntary commitment and treatment of individuals with severe psychiatric disorders. Recent advances in the understanding of the neurobiology of these disorders have rendered obsolete many assumptions underlying past statutes and legal decisions. This is illustrated by using schizophrenia as an example and examining two influential cases: California’s Lanterman-Petris-Short Act (1969) and Wisconsin’s Lessard decision (1972). It is concluded that laws governing involuntary commitment and treatment need to be updated to incorporate the current neurobiological understanding of severe psychiatric disorders.


Health Law and Policy | Law and Psychology | Law and Society | Legal History | Legislation | Public Law and Legal Theory

Date of this Version

November 2004