The Fortunate Mistake: The New Jersey PPD Law

The Fortunate Mistake:
The New Jersey Postpartum Depression Law—An Opportunity to Join Forces

Michael G. Zampardi, Ph.D. and countless others

The New Jersey Postpartum Depression (PPD) Screening Law can be considered a fortunate mistake. The word “mistake” might be considered negative and offensive or insensitive but it is purposely chosen in order to unite it with another expression: “The only true mistakes are the ones we do not learn from.”

The New Jersey PPD Law is so markedly defective and inadequate that it can awaken awareness and recognition of very basic, fundamental issues about codes of ethics, legal issues, particularly confidentiality, privacy, patient protection, and full informed consent.

It is almost as if an ethics professor had given his class a group assignment to write a law that seems initially to be ostensibly appealing but violates every major legal and ethical precept. Freud, among others, gained enormous insights into normality and normal development by studying pathology and the breakdown of processes and systems.

The ethics professor hopes that students, in attempting to compose the worst possible law, will appreciate law and order by studying violations of law and by studying disorder.

A fortunate element in this situation is a renewed opportunity to unite various forces to rectify serious errors in the New Jersey PPD Law.

What are at stake are not only the rights and lives of citizens but also the long-range legal/ethical consequences upon the professions of medicine, of psychology, and of all other mental health professions.

There is a threat of erosion, corrosion, and corruption of our basic ethical principles and, ultimately, of the services provided to all potential clients.

The upcoming national Mothers Act (a virtual replica of the New Jersey PPD Law), if enacted, can be likened to an epidemic and plague of all the undesirable, destructive features of the New Jersey PPD Law.

Let us learn from the New Jersey PPD Law mistakes and not repeat them and magnify them in the national Mothers Act. Even if the Mothers Act is defeated, there exist serious, ongoing defects in the New Jersey PPD Law which must be addressed and rectified.

Both the New Jersey PPD Law and the Mothers Act contain the following legal/ethical violations:

1) Failure to provide full informed consent (i.e., consent should be express, written, voluntary, informed).
2) Failure to provide adequate privacy and protection of client communications.
3) Failure to adhere to legal/ethical principles with resultant erosion of the quality of client services (e.g., federal mandates and ethical requirements for proper informed consent; full information about risks and benefits of the PPD screening process; need to provide an explicit option to decline services; need to provide information on alternatives to prevailing services).

There is a prayer entitled “Don’t Quit.” A line in this prayer is: “Success is failure turned inside out.” Let us turn this New Jersey mistake, this New Jersey failure, into a success.

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