Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Voting and Alzheimer Disease

Balancing civil rights and the needs of society in patients with mental illness in general and Alzheimer disease in particular is a thorny business. This month's American Journal of Psychiatry reports a study purporting to show how a structured interview can predict if a person with Alzheimer disease meets the requirements for voting as established in the Doe precedent.

Their data show that this structured interview's results correlate with the degree of dementia as measured by the standard Folstein MMSE, but I think this study misses the point of Doe. According to this article itself, the case was decided on the matter of whether the state of Maine could categorically deny the right to vote to individuals who had an appointed legal guardian--the court ruled that it could not, for the law violated the right to due process. But the court deliberately established very loose criteria to be able to vote, to ensure it would be difficult to take that right away.

The power to disenfranchise an American citizen has enormous potential for abuse--witness literacy requirements in the Jim Crowe era. To have an established structured procedure to prevent people from voting is an invitation to abuse. And the harm to society of a few Alzheimer patients voting is far less than the danger from establishing and delegating a state authority to disenfranchise.


At 9:00 AM, Blogger Cranky Cindy said...

I absolutely agree with you, disenfranchisement is a slippery slope no American should ever be willing to go down.
My white supremacist neighbor gets to vote, my lesbian partner gets to vote, people with mental retardation get to vote, people with Alzheimers get to vote.


Studied have shown that some people vote for the handsome/beautiful candidate. Heck, that's so commonly understood that a white supremacist candidate got a nose job to look more attractive; in Italy, a candidate bared her breasts to get elected; and in Belgium a woman promised to pose for Playboy if elected.

If relatively intelligent, capable, mentally "competent" people can vote on the basis of looks rather than capability, certainly people with cognitive disabilities and/or mental illnesses have just as much likelihood of selecting a good candidate.

On whatever basis they choose.


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