What should society do with crazy people?
Institutionalizing them can lead to some terrible abuses, if the wider community is shuffling them off into sanatoriums and then forgetting about them. However, going to the extreme in the other direction – the libertarian position that you have a right to be a homeless crazy person and no one has the right to force you to take your meds – leads to innocent people being killed by crazy mass shooters. (Perfect world solution: everyone must be armed, and gun-free zones are banned by federal law.)
There is a valid question of individual liberty – who has the right to declare someone insane and thus involuntarily commit them? Totalitarian regimes – notably Communist ones – often use “insanity” as an excuse to pack inconvenient people off to the gulag. So instead, we have a situation in which – to quote an Insty commenter, I think it was, though I can’t find the link now – for the mentally disturbed, in order to get the help you need, you have to commit a felony first. Due process doesn’t deal with insanity anymore, just criminality.
I’m not convinced that it’s more moral to “respect” the “rights” of the insane when the practical effect of doing so is that the insane get to terrorize everyone they come across – even for those people who don’t go on to shoot up a theater, school, mall, or military base. From a strictly utilitarian standpoint, it would cause less human suffering to lock up the extreme cases of disturbed individuals, even if they were treated like animals…. oh wait, in our society we have laws against mistreating animals. Hmm.
Here’s the thing – the modern “welfare state” is mostly just the majority of people voting themselves largess from the public treasury, which is why the whole edifice is crumbling. But there is a legitimate space for groups of people to come together and decide, “These unfortunates are too great a burden for a single family to bear” – whether their medical problems are severe, or they’re dangerous lunatics – “so we will band together and create institutions that will care for these individuals out of the public purse.” Just as it’s a bad idea to have each family unit enforcing their own justice, there’s space for caring to be done collectively as well, especially in a society as rich as we are. We have enough surplus that we don’t have to set Grandma adrift on an ice floe once she’s too decrepit to care for herself. And it wouldn’t necessarily have to be the government running the places, either.
Sadly, though, I suspect that our modern society lacks the necessary respect for the dignity of the human person to treat the mentally ill properly, once the fiction of their being “normal” is disposed of. Consider how hard the abnormal and their champions fight to be “mainstreamed” – I think they realize that being recognized as “abnormal” by society might lead to their being re-categorized from “human with rights” to “disposable.”
It’s what happens to the Down Syndrome babies, after all.