“The beginning of a revolution” for mental disability law

Renowned New York Law professor Michael Perlin has released a new paper in the 2011 edition of the Law and Psychology Review reflecting on the impact of the Supreme Court’s 1972 Wyatt v. Stickney decision upholding the constitutional rights to treatment for people institutionalized because of mental disability, which Perlin calls “the most important institutional rights case in the history of domestic mental disability law.”

This is a photograph of a law book, gavel and scale of justice.
Wyatt Examined

Nearly two decades prior to the Americans with Disabilities Act, Perlin credits the Wyatt decision with establishing such now-taken-for-granted concepts as “staffing ratios, individual treatment plans and environmental standards” and forever changing the course of disability law.

“The revolution that Wyatt began has largely constitutionalized every aspect of the civil committment and release process as well as most ‘pressure points’ in the course of institutionalization (the right to treatment, the right to refuse treatment, the right to the least restrictive alternative course of treatment).”

Unique to this paper, Perlin, who has written hundreds of papers on mental disability law, attempts what he calls a “preliminary exploration” of Wyatt’s global impact.

Citing cases from everywhere from Ecuador to Gambia, Perlin details Wyatt’s influence on such governmental bodies as the European Court of Human and Rights and the Inter-American Commission. For Perlin, the words of the Wyatt decision represent the “heart and soul” of the United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

“It is not much of a reach to predict that, in another 40 years, Wyatt’s influence on international human rights law will be seen as profound (or as more profound) than its influence on domestic law.”