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Scifo: Language and psychotropic medications

Katarzyna G., whose full name is withheld for privacy reasons, emigrated from Poland to the U.S. in 1977 at the age of 25. She worked as a cleaning lady, owned her own home and raised a family without learning to speak or read English.

In 2008, Katarzyna was arrested and prosecuted for aggravated battery of a police officer. The court found her not guilty by reason of insanity and eventually involuntarily admitted her to the Elgin Mental Health Center

Katarzyna’s doctor at EHMC met with her once per month, often with a Polish interpreter present. The doctor diagnosed Katarzyna with a psychiatric disorder.

The doctor proposed psychotropic medications as treatment to Katarzyna in English. The doctor also gave Katarzyna materials written in English about the proposed medications’ risks and benefits. Katarzyna stated she would review said materials with the Polish interpreter.  

Katarzyna refused any medication to treat her disorder. The doctor then petitioned the court for permission to involuntarily administer psychotropic medication to Katarzyna. The court granted the petition, which was appealed.

The Second District Appellate Court ruled written notice of the risks and benefits of psychotropic medication to a patient in a language the patient does not understand is not sufficient to involuntarily administer psychotropic medication.

Illinois has enacted the Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities Code to protect, inter alia, the liberty interests of those subjected to involuntary commitment.

The code provides that “if services include the administration of … psychotropic medication, the physician… shall advise the recipient, in writing, of the side effects, risks, and benefits of the treatment, as well as alternatives to the proposed treatment …” 405 ILCS 5/2-102(a-5).

The code also provides that “[w]henever a statement or explanation is required to be given to a recipient under this Chapter and the recipient does not read or understand English, such statement or explanation shall be provided to him in a language which he understands.” 405 ILCS 5/3-204.

The court stated the written notice’s purposes are to ensure the patient is fully informed about the treatment’s risks, benefits, side effects and alternatives, and to protect the patient’s due process rights.

The case is in re: Katarzyna G., 2013 Ill.App.2d 120807

• Anthony Scifo is a resident of Kane County and an associate attorney with Shaw, Jacobs, Goostree and Associates P.C. in St. Charles, where he concentrates in divorce and family law, personal injury and wrongful death. His goal with this occasional column is to help educate the public regarding the court system and the law. Contact him with general legal questions at 

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