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PHR Welcomes National Association of Medical Examiners’ (NAME) Policy Reversal on “Excited Delirium” as a Cause of Death

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) welcomes the new position statement from the National Association of Medical Examiners (NAME), which states that the Association no longer endorses the term “excited delirium.” The so-called “excited delirium” diagnosis has long been used in the United States as a medically baseless cause of death in fatal police encounters. 

NAME’s policy reversal follows a PHR investigation into the origins, impacts, and pseudoscience behind “excited delirium,” as well as months of PHR engagement with NAME to change its stance and disavow the term. 

For years, NAME and the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) were the two lone medical associations in the United States that continued to endorse and perpetuate use of “excited delirium” as an in-custody cause of death. 

PHR’s March 2022 report found that “excited delirium” is not a valid medical diagnosis and should no longer be used by clinicians, attorneys, or law enforcement. It concluded that “the term ‘excited delirium’ cannot be disentangled from its racist and unscientific origins.”

“Following years of work by victims’ families and advocates, extensive research, and media reporting, today we are happy to see that the National Association of Medical Examiners (NAME) has finally withdrawn its endorsement of the use of ‘excited delirium,’ as a cause of death” said Joanna Naples-Mitchell, JD, PHR U.S. research advisor and co-author of PHR’s report on the topic. “For years, NAME has offered a veneer of medical legitimacy to this pseudoscientific and dangerous term, allowing responsibility for deaths to be shifted away from law enforcement officers. Much damage has been done, but as of today clinicians, litigators, and police can no longer look to NAME for endorsement of ‘excited delirium.’”

“We urge NAME to publicly acknowledge the severe harms caused by this baseless term. NAME should also work to educate its members and all U.S. medical examiners to ensure the end of this invalid medical diagnosis rooted in racism.”

“With NAME’s policy reversal, the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) is the only U.S. medical association that still recognizes ‘excited delirium.’ We call on ACEP to affirmatively disavow ‘excited delirium’ and make amends for its historic endorsement of this invalid diagnosis,” 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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