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Some Police Oppose Moves To Discard ‘Excited Delirium’ Term

After a pivotal year in the movement to discard the term "excited delirium" momentum is building in several states to ban the discredited medical diagnosis from death certificates, law enforcement training, police incident reports, and civil court testimony. In January, California was the first state to prohibit the medical term from many official proceedings. Now, lawmakers in Colorado, Hawaii, Minnesota and New York are considering bills that also would rein in how the excited delirium concept is used, KFF reports. The new spate of state proposals, driven by families who lost relatives after encounters with law enforcement, marks an important step in doing away with a concept that critics say spurs police to overuse lethal force. “It’s the law following the science, which is what we want to see,” said Joanna Naples-Mitchell, an attorney who worked on an influential Physicians for Human Rights review of how the term excited delirium evolved into a concept whose legitimacy is largely rejected by the medical community.


Initial momentum in statehouses is being met with fresh resistance from law enforcement agencies and other defenders, including some who agree that excited delirium is a sham diagnosis. The bills “clearly run afoul of the First Amendment” and violate free speech, said Bill Johnson of the National Association of Police Organizations. He argued that law enforcement officers do encounter symptoms and behaviors associated with excited delirium. Excited delirium is a four-decade-old diagnostic theory that has been used to explain how a person experiencing severe agitation can suddenly die while being restrained. Last year, the American College of Emergency Physicians withdrew a 2009 report that had been the last remaining official medical pillar of support for the theory used increasingly over 15 years to explain away police culpability for many in-custody deaths.

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