This is an update to my earlier post: Speak out against Michigan man being forced to undergo electroshock therapy against his will

The ELCA finally responded to the email I sent them over a month ago. (I guess they now feel the need to respond to this, after Ray’s case was covered by NPR) I am posting it below along with my response to them.

The best I can tell, the ELCA is saying that…

1. Don’t blame us, because we are one of only many Lutheran groups that sponsor Lutheran Social Services of Minnesota.
2. We have nothing to do with this injustice, even though we either have members of the board of LSS and/or contribute money to them.
3. LSS is able to dodge responsibility for this because they are only a “general guardian” of Ray Sandford and that they have a medical professional (presumably paid for by LSS) do the dirty work of going to court and compelling someone to have electroshock therapy.
4. Mentally ill people shouldn’t have any rights to govern their own care.

Date: Tue, Dec 16, 2008 at 9:54 AM
Subject: Re: Issue with Lutheran Social Services
To: JM Branum

Thank you for writing concerning a story you have heard or seen in the public media. The ELCA is not related to the situation, except as a sponsor of Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota, one of 280 such organizations in the Lutheran Services in America network. Sponsorship is a fairly loose term from a churchwide perspective, and usually means
that people in the area of the affiliated agency represent the church on the agency’s board, and individuals and congregations may also contribute some funding to the agency.

Here is a response from Lutheran Services in America which explains the situation about which you are concerned:

To respond to your inquiry and comments regarding a recent story about the medical situation of a vulnerable adult under a civil commitment proceeding, who also has a court appointed guardian:

As a guardian, Lutheran Social Service has both a legal and ethical duty to keep the specific details of clients’ care and treatment confidential. While we can’t discuss the client specifically, we can speak in general about how we carry out our work.

Lutheran Social Service is appointed by the court to serve as a guardian or conservator to over 800 vulnerable adults in Minnesota. We are court-appointed to take on this role when individuals lack the capacity to make decisions about their affairs and there are no family
members who are either able or willing to take on that responsibility.

A civil commitment is a separate proceeding in the State of Minnesota. When a person is civilly committed, a decision to impose electroconvulsive therapy (“ECT”) is a decision made by a commitment court and not the court appointed Guardian. In the commitment process
someone, normally a health care professional, brings a petition for ECT treatment for the individual. The individual is assigned an attorney and a guardian ad litem (not Lutheran Social Service) who act as advocates either to oppose or to consent to the petition. The
commitment court hears evidence from medical professionals and then makes a decision on whether to impose the ECT treatment. The court decision is then appealable by the client and the client’s attorney.

Under Minnesota Statute §524.5-313, a general guardian such as Lutheran Social Service has no authority to impose ECT treatment against the known conscientious, religious or moral beliefs of the individual. The general guardian is not a participant in the civil commitment process regarding the forced imposition of ECT treatment.

Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota has a long tradition of serving vulnerable children and adults, and careful systems are in place to ensure that decisions are made with the person’s best interest in mind.

Eric Jonsgaard, Senior Director
LSS Guardianship Options

I hope this helps you understand the situation, and that you will tell whoever suggested that writing to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America might help make a difference that they are misdirecting you and many other people.

Miriam L. Woolbert
ELCA Communication Services

Here is my response to the ELCA…

Ms. Woolbert (cc: office(at)mindfreedom(dot)org),

With all due respect, your church’s response is a cop-out.

If ELCA is a sponsor of Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota, and has members on its board and/or contributes money to this charity, then it has some influence on what it does. If the ELCA seeks to follow the way of Christ and seeks to stand up for the marginalized, then I expect the ELCA to use its influence to stop Ray from undergoing forced electroshock therapy.

The truth is that your church CAN make a difference. To say otherwise is not accurate.

James Branum

P.S. I didn’t hear about this story from the public media, but rather from Mind Freedom International, of which I am a proud member. I will share your response with them, so they can encourage their members to continue to press the ELCA to do the right thing.