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SCHIZOPHRENIA: Widower demands the right to know
Schizophrenia Update, December 2002
By: Veronique Mandal Star Health-Science Reporter
Ramsay Millar is telling parents across North America to demand information on their children's mental illness, because not having it killed his wife.
Ruth Millar was stabbed to death in her Victoria, B.C. home by their 24-year-old son in 1997. Had she known he was schizophrenic, her widower says, steps could have been taken to safeguard the family. "This happens far too often and it's totally absurd that parents, who are on the firing line to be hurt, are never told how serious their child's condition is, what medications they're on and what precautions they should be taking," said Millar, a computer consultant.
Doctors go too far in refusing to divulge diagnostic and treatment information that could prevent harm to the mentally ill person and family members, Millar said.
"I don't think they want to give us the information but their thinking is backward and one day the issue will ultimately be settled by families in a class action lawsuit. There is a section in the patient confidentiality manual which gives us the right to know."
That section is Article 22 of the Canadian Medical Association code of ethics, which states: "Respect the patient's right to confidentiality except when the right conflicts with your responsibility to the law, or when the maintenance of confidentiality would result in significant risk of substantial harm to others or to the patient, if the patient is incompetent; in such cases take all reasonable steps to inform the patient that confidentiality will be breached."
Doctors knew three years before Ruth Millar died that her son, Aaron, had paranoid schizophrenia. "I was also not notified when he talked about suicide and tried it a few times," said Ramsay Millar. "He saw 11 psychiatrists over two to three years who said he was OK and did not put him on a treatment plan. He only received treatment when he got in trouble with the law."
Dressed in camouflage gear and wrapped in tinfoil, Millar's son cut satellite cables at a Victoria newspaper and TV station, believing it would block messages from aliens. He was catatonic and talking gibberish.
Unable to find residential treatment for Aaron, Ruth took him in. But one night, while she was doing the supper dishes, Aaron lapsed into a psychosis in which he became convinced Ruth was evil. He pulled a ceremonial sword from the wall and killed her.
Ramsay Millar, now living in Portland, Ore., has become a crusader for the mentally ill, speaking openly about his wife's murder, lobbying governments and making documentaries in Canada and the U.S.
Today, Millar's son is stabilized on the drug clozapine and remains under scrutiny of the B.C. Review Board, which oversees that province's mentally ill offenders. He working as a mechanic and teaches snowboarding.
Dr. Jeff Daskalakis of Toronto's Clarke Institute, supports parents' right to information. "It's a cornerstone to treatment. If a family member is kept in the dark and cuts the loved one off because he won't seek treatment, it shuts the patient out of that family and alienates the person from society," said Daskalakis.
According to the Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons, a doctor may give information about the condition of a patient, or any services provided to the patient, to "the patient's authorized representative, health professional for the purpose of providing care to the patient or for the purpose of research ... if they reasonably believe that the person will protect the patient's identity."