California became the first state in U.S. history to prohibit the use of "excited delirium" as a cause of death. The term was criticized for its roots in racism and its role in justifying deaths in police custody. Governor Gavin Newsom signed the legislation on Sunday, which prevents coroners and medical examiners from including the term on death certificates. This legislative measure had previously gained unanimous approval in the California State Assembly.
Michele Heisler, the medical director of Physicians for Human Rights, celebrated this bill as a victory for justice, police accountability, human rights, and health. She emphasized that this term would no longer serve as a shield for law enforcement in cases of deaths in custody or obstruct access to legal remedies.
The controversial phrase "excited delirium" has been employed by police officers and forensic pathologists to describe individuals experiencing distress or aggression due to mental illness or stimulant use. Medical associations such as the American Medical Association and the American Psychiatric Association have discredited it as pseudoscience, while the National Association of Medical Examiners also discouraged its use.
Critics pointed out a pattern of employing the term as a justification for excessive police force, particularly in cases involving the deaths of Black men in police custody. Notably, it surfaced in the George Floyd case in Minneapolis. Assemblyman Mike A. Gipson, the legislator behind the California bill, rejected the use of "excited delirium" in explaining the death of Angelo Quinto, whose family alleged that police officers had knelt on his back for nearly five minutes during an altercation in 2020.
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