Gabe Kaimowitz

Gabriel (Gabe) Hillel Kaimowitz, is a veteran of the civil rights movement, whose litigation ranged from protecting the voting rights of Latino voters (once enjoining the New York City elections) to successfully challenging discrimination against black English in the Ann Arbor, Michigan, School system. See, Martin Luther King, Jr. Elementary School Children v. Ann Arbor School District, 473 F. Supp. 1371 (E.D. Mich. 1979).

As relevant here, Gabe’s work included challenging Michigan’s mental health system, ensuring that the rights of individual’s to due process and informed consent in Michigan State hospitals were protected, See, Bell v. Wayne County General Hospital at Eloise, 384 F. Supp. 1085 (E.D. Mich. 1974), As one writer described Gabe’s work in that case:

[The hospital] rebuffed the lawyer…Two weeks later Kaimowitz filed the lawsuit, which like many in its day, used a specific case as a launching point for a broad-based attack on the entire system. It alleged not only that Bell was being held against her will and presented no danger to anyone, but that the entire commitment process was unconstitutional…Kaimowitz declared that the state had no right to force medication on Bell if she didn’t want it; the state responded that Bell’s illness prevented her from making a rational choice. The State said Bell deserved treatment for her illness, Kaimowitz alleged that the hospital was making Bell sick – asking, “Who wouldn’t be depressed after being subjected to unwanted confinement?"

Steve Luxenberg, Annie’s Ghosts: A Journey into a Family Secret, Hyperion, 2009.

Gabe is perhaps most recognized for bringing the pivotal case that effectively put an end to psychosurgery in the United States, Kaimowitz v. Department of Mental Health for the State of Michigan. No. 73·19434·AW (Mich. Cir. Ct., Wayne County, July 10, 1973). The case resulted in an eloquent opinion predicated on the doctors’ cases in Nuremberg and halted efforts to invade the sanctity and privacy of the mind, challenging the very premise that voluntary non-coercive consent may be given by involuntarily institutionalized persons in the inherently coercive environment of State psychiatric facilities. As Dr. Peter Breggin stated about the case:

In 1972 the State of Michigan and the Lafayette Clinic of Wayne State University began planning an experimental psychosurgery program for the control of violence, using “voluntary” inmates of the state hospital system. Gabe Kaimowitz ,… a Michigan Legal Services lawyer, heard about the upcoming medical event, and intervened in…court on behalf of “John Doe” and two-dozen other state psychiatric inmates scheduled for eventual enrollment in the experimental program….Kaimowitz invited me to testify as his medical expert and during two days on the stand, I gave a history of state mental hospitals and psychosurgery. I wanted the three judges to understand that state mental hospitals are similar to Nazi concentration camps in how they suppress and humiliate their involuntary inmates; and I wanted to suggest the applicability of the Nuremberg Code.

Interestingly, although excerpts were published in various legal treatises and law school casebooks, the court's decision in Kaimowitz v. Michigan DMH, was never published in the official law reporter. The court's holding was criticized in the American Psychiatric Association journals and publications, and there was an organized effort by influential psychiatrists to suppress publication of the decision. The full opinion of the court was published in the inaugural volume of the Mental Disability Law Reporter (1 Mental Disability L. Rep. 147 1976-1977), a publication of the American Bar Association's Commission on Disability Rights.

Kaimowitz v. Michigan Department of Mental Health, 1 Mental DIsability Law Reporter 147 (1976-77).