Yes, #FreeBritney, Punish the Corrupt, but Do Not Make the Mistake of Framing This as a Disability Rights Issue

As much as I support the general thrust of the #FreeBritney movement and its central goal of releasing Britney Spears from a nightmarish and thoroughly inappropriate situation tantamount to slavery under which she has languished for over a decade at the instigation of those she should have been able to trust most as a safe harbor from the treacherous world of public life, it would be unconscionable for me to avoid stating that there is something that bothers me tremendously about the recent coverage of the Britney Spears conservatorship case: it’s now being framed as part of a narrative of “disability rights” and used as an argument against the existence of such conservatorship/guardianship arrangements as such for people who are legitimately far too mentally ill to care for themselves or exercise sound judgment and self-advocacy, and who pose an obvious ongoing danger to their own wellbeing.

It’s far too easy to say “well, there should be less restrictive options for people with mental illness instead” (there already are and they are insufficient for the most dire cases) or “you shouldn’t be allowed to require someone to take medication,” either of which sentiments only ensures a situation wherein, for instance, a person afflicted with anosognosia (i.e. a symptom of serious psychotic illness wherein one is unable to recognize thst one is even ill) will refuse to seek or maintain mental health treatment due to their cognitively based failure of perspective.

The issue with Britney Spears isn’t that conservatorships/guardianships exist at all or exist in the form that they do; it’s that she was placed in one by bad faith actors, including a corrupt judge, with the express intent of using it to manipulate and exploit her career and resources to enrich said bad faith actors themselves on an indefinite basis with no evidence to the contrary being permitted a thorough or fair hearing or examination. As a result of this unbalanced coverage and public discourse, I fear that many well-intentioned but ultimately uncomprehending people will take up this iconic cause celebre out of context as a call to action to make it even harder to help the severely mentally ill who would be at unacceptable risk of perishing or otherwise placing themselves in unambiguously harmful situations without such “coercive” methods as a tool in the legal arsenal for those closest to them to prevent tragic outcomes.

The only meaningful purpose of individual rights is to increase someone’s overall potential for obtaining a higher quality of life, and therefore if such liberties are viewed autistically as an end in themselves such that the focus upon liberty must necessarily detract from a genuinely seriously ill person’s ability to be healthy because the responsible exercise of said liberty hinges upon a level of agency and judgement that the individual does not at present have, then in a sane society, liberty would have to take a back seat to all the steps that must be taken to restore that person’s judgement in the long term.

In light of this, we should be trying to prevent exploitation and opportunism within the bounds of the legal system, rather than hampering an already woefully inadequate mental health treatment system and unfairly vilifying these more restrictive methods as a concept. So at this point, I’m genuinely afraid that some hotshot, upstart legislators will jump aboard the bandwagon and start a legal trend towards taking a lot of the teeth out of these vital institutions at a time in history where we’re acting as though it’s better for clinically psychotic people to kill themselves than be legally obligated to take the medication they need in order to function.