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See also: CCLE Briefs US Supreme Court on Forced-drugging case A decision by the US Supreme Court in the Dr. Sell case was decided on June 16, 2003.

Man hailed by some as genius
cannot be forcibly drugged for mental illness


SUE BAILEY


OTTAWA (CP) - A physics savant who says he'd rather stay locked up than be drugged for mental illness cannot be forcibly medicated, says Canada's highest court.

The Supreme Court of Canada ruled 6-3 Friday [opinion] that a medical board was unreasonable and wrongly applied legal tests when it found Scott Starson incapable of deciding whether to accept treatment.

"This decision was made by him when he was able to recognize that his condition required treatment," wrote Justice Jack Major for the majority.

"He knew as well that the doctors were optimistic that new medication would improve his condition although medication had been unsuccessful in the past. His choice, which he was entitled to make, was to remain as he was and to continue psychiatric therapy, in spite of his condition and the hope of others."

The case is reminiscent of the John Forbes Nash story in the movie A Beautiful Mind. Starson, 47, fell ill 20 years ago with schizo-affective disorder, a blend of schizophrenia and manic depression.

Doctors now consider him psychotic.

With no formal training, his gift for physics has been hailed by some of the world's leading physicists. Court documents describe the former engineer, skier and arm wrestler as "an extraordinarily intelligent man."

Starson has written for scholarly journals and co-authored an article with Pierre Noyes, professor emeritus of theoretical physics at Stanford University's Stanford Linear Accelerator Centre.

Questions of time measurement, anti-gravity and the theory of relativity are among Starson's specialties. He changed his last name from Schutzman in 1993 because, his mother has said, "He actually thought he was the son of the stars."

Jeanne Stevens has fought for years to clear the way for her son's forcible drugging, convinced it's his only hope out of hospital prison.

Mental problems since 1985 led to legal troubles and several stints in psychiatric wards. Starson has refused anti-psychotic drugs, saying they dull his mind to the physics research that is his life's passion.

He was admitted five years ago to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto after being found not criminally responsible on two charges of threatening tenants in his apartment building. Until recent months he lived in a room with a sliding steel door at the Penetanguishene Mental Health Centre maximum-security Oak Ridge Division.

He now lives in the medium-security forensic psychiatry unit at the Royal Ottawa Hospital. It's a secure ward where he has no regular visiting privileges.

"It's better than where I was," he said in an interview Thursday.

Last year, he told The Canadian Press that he chooses to remain incarcerated.

"I completely, cognizantly got myself in this. "I knew that I was making a choice I couldn't go back on."

Starson never again wants to repeat forced drugging that he says left him incapacitated and drooling.   

He spoke compellingly of his research and ideas for inventions, from personal nuclear reactors to laser shavers. Then he casually mentioned: "Pope John Paul II works for me now."

Starson also described his wedding plans to Joan Rivers, whom he has never met, and suggested that Pierre Elliott Trudeau was killed by an alien.

Psychiatrist Paul Posner - who accused Starson of theatening to kill him - proposed Starson undergo invasive treatment with anti-psychotic drugs. The medication would have to be forcibly injected at first.

Posner's goal was to slow Starson's racing thoughts to a "normal level . . . without psychosis."

Starson told a medical review board that such an outcome would be "worse than death."

Starson's psychiatrist and physician Ian Swayze, who brought the case to the high court, won a ruling from a medical review board that Starson was incapable of recognizing the possible benefits of medication. The board of psychiatrists, lawyers and citizens concluded Starson's condition would deteriorate over time and ruled him incapable of rationally refusing treatment.

That decision was overturned in 1999 by the Ontario Superior Court of Justice. The board's conclusion that Starson completely denied his mental condition was "a fundamental error," the judge said in a ruling that was unanimously upheld by the Ontario Court of Appeal.

It was also wrong for the board to accept unsubstantiated claims that Starson suffered delusions that others meant to harm him, the judge said.

Removing Starson's ability to refuse drugs "has very serious consequences . . . and should only be made on cogent and compelling evidence," the judge stressed.

Yet the doctors failed to show how drugs had ever helped Starson, the court concluded.

The top court was asked to consider whether the courts applied the correct legal standards when they overruled the medical board, and whether the appeal court was wrong to exclude new evidence on Starson's condition and prognosis.

In A Beautiful Mind, Russell Crowe played Nash, a mathematics genius who battled schizophrenia. Drugs and shock treatment were forced on him after alarming behaviour considered threatening.

Forty-five years after he made an astonishing mathematical discovery while writing his doctorate, Nash won a Nobel prize for economics.

The Canadian Press, 2003
  
06/6/2003 10:07 EST

Resources

Read Canadian Supreme Court's ruling in Starson case

Read lower Court's Ruling in Starson Case

Index to Dr. Sell case (US Forced drugging case)