Discussion of the death penalty as it pertains to those with severe mental illness continues in Kentucky.
A bill banning applying the death penalty to some with severe mental illness barely made it to the full state Senate this week.
The measure would block use of the death penalty for people who, at the time of the offense, have a documented history of schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder or delusional disorder.
Republican Rep. Chad McCoy, lead sponsor of the bill, said the bill will not do away with the death penalty, and offenders with a history of severe mental illness would still face severe punishment if the bill becomes law.
Banning the death penalty for those with severe mental illness is a step toward civilization.
Severe mentall illness may be treatable, but getting help for those patients is difficult. Those who suffer from it can't always be convinced, or made to understand, they need help. There is still much to learn about treatment mental illness, so not every person who needs help and gets it is treated successfully.
The criminal justice system strives to be fair, but is it fair to execute those who can’t contribute to their own defense? It is not.
The Sixth Amendment guarantees the rights of criminal defendants. This includes the right to know who your accusers are and the nature of the charges and evidence against you. There are circumstances in which mentally ill individuals are incapable of knowing the nature of the charges and evidence against them.
Civilized societies work to treat all people fairly, taking into consideration individual differences. Mental health must be examined as a part of that effort. Amnesty.org states: “The death penalty is discriminatory. It is often used against the most vulnerable in society, including the poor, ethnic and religious minorities, and people with mental disabilities.”
Many state legislatures have considered bills excluding those with severe mental illness from execution, but so far, none has enacted such a bill. Kentucky should demonstrate its progressive and humane mindset by enacting this protection for a category of the most vulnerable.