California Becomes First State to Ban “Excited Delirium” as a Cause of Death

Governor Newsom signs landmark bill following tireless community activism and PHR report on the pseudoscience of “excited delirium"

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) applauds the California legislature and Governor Gavin Newsom for approving first-of-its-kind legislation to ban “excited delirium” as a diagnosis and cause of death in the state.  

With the governor’s signing of AB 360 California becomes the first state in the country to bar use of the invalid, baseless concept of “excited delirium.” PHR calls on other states, law enforcement, and medical professionals to follow California’s trailblazing example. 

“The signing of AB 360 represents a watershed moment for efforts to investigate, achieve accountability for, and end deaths in police custody in the United States,” said Michele Heisler, MD, MPA, medical director at PHR and professor of internal medicine and public health at University of Michigan. “This baseless concept can no longer be used in California to absolve law enforcement for deaths in custody, misinform responses to people facing medical and behavioral crises, or block access to legal remedies. This legislation is a victory for justice, police accountability, human rights, and health. It also represents an important step toward ensuring that spurious medical diagnoses not be invented to fuel social injustice.” 

This groundbreaking legislation prohibits references to “excited delirium” in death certificates and autopsy reports, police reports, and civil litigation. The legislation, which passed with almost unanimous bipartisan support, is the culmination of years of work by impacted families, advocates, journalists, researchers, and others. The bill reflects the growing consensus that “excited delirium” lacks a credible medical basis and should not be cited as a cause of death. 

In 2022 PHR published a seminal report (“Excited Delirium” and Deaths in Police Custody: The Deadly Impact of a Baseless Diagnosis) that traced the history, impacts, and pseudoscience behind “excited delirium,” highlighting the need for clinicians and law enforcement to end use of the baseless diagnosis that is rooted in racism. In the wake of PHR’s research and ongoing advocacy by PHR and partners, several major U.S. medical associations have reversed their policies on “excited delirium.” Some 2,500 PHR supporters also signed a petition calling on Gov. Newsom to sign the bill banning the false diagnosis. 

“This landmark legislative victory reflects the efforts of many, but the family of Angelo Quinto — whose 2020 death at the hands of police in Antioch, California was attributed to ‘excited delirium’ — was instrumental in securing passage of AB 360. Their bravery, ingenuity, and relentless advocacy is an awe-inspiring testament to Angelo’s life and legacy,” said Joanna Naples-Mitchell, JD, U.S. research advisor at PHR and a co-author of PHR’s report on “excited delirium.” 

“We also applaud California state Assemblymember Mike Gipson, the bill’s primary sponsor. PHR shared an early draft of the legislation with the Assemblymember’s office,” said Naples-Mitchell. “We also thank our partners who worked on the bill and related advocacy efforts, including the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project (STOP), Campaign Zero, and numerous medical and legal experts.” 

“California’s actions have made it clear: ‘Excited delirium’ has no place on death certificates, in law enforcement training materials, or in any other medical or legal settings. Institutions’ use of this baseless diagnosis has caused untold harms over decades, obscuring actual causes of death and preventing accountability. Other states and organizations should follow suit and drop ‘excited delirium’ for good,” said Naples-Mitchell.

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to prevent mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.

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