The Britney Spears story is taking on the appearance of something out of the Middle Ages – in the days of inqusitions.

I do understand that it is dangerous to speculate on a peson’s mental health from afar. Anyone who has had experience with people who have serious mental health issues – such as dementia or Alzheimer’s – know that a person can appear to be quite normal and competent at times, and yet highly disfunctional and incompetent at other times – especialy in the early stages of decline.

Even with that in mind, the Spears case seems both outrageous and scary.  For reasons that have never been fully explained outside of the courts, the pop singer has been the subject of a conservatory arrangement for 13 years.  Is she some invalid strapped to a wheelchair – or starring blankly out the window all day?  Not even close.

This was a women performing on stage and keeping a schedule that no person could maintain if they were totally incompetent.  She may have had problems – but nothing that seemed to require such extreme contols of her finances, her career and her body.

Now most folks understand that when a person is seriously incapable of managing their day-to-day life, there is a need for others to take control.  There are many methods of taking control of the care of those who cannot care for themselves.  A common option is a nursing home.  In some casess, a person grants power-of-attorney to a loved one.  Courts often appoint executors to manage the affairs of the disabled person.  And there are conservators.

In virtually all such cases, the condition of the person is extreme.  Their inability to manage their finances or even the daily activites of life is usually quite obvious.   That does not appear to be the situation with Spears.

The Spears case seems to draw us back to a completely different – and horrific – era in the treatment of mental health.  We can recall how the patriarch of the Kennedy family, Papa Joe, forced his daughter to undergo a frontal lobotomy, which left her just short of brain dead – necessitating a life confined to an “institution.”

Even from a distance, Spears does not seem to be incapable of managing her own affairs.  But she does seem capable of finding the help she needs when she needs it.  After all, she has managed to get her own lawyer over the objections of her conservators.

And then there is that issue.  Her conservator.  She has never had a good relationship with her father, so why would he be appointed as her conservator.  And yet he controls every aspect of her life … her money.  That may have more to do with the conservatory arrangement than her health.

With a net worth estimated at more than $50 million to be coveted and controlled, there is a significant motive to retain the conservatorship.

The Spears’ case brings the entire issue of guardianship off the back burner and into the arena of public debate.  If this can happen to a celebrity with the visibility and resources of Britney Spears, what is happening to the thousands of people who are the subjects – victims (?) –of the conservatory process.

It is said that it is easy to put a person under the authority of a conservator, but very difficult for that person to terminate the relationship.  Perhaps that is because most individuals in that situation are permanently and hopelessly disabled.  But the Spears conservatorship suggests that incapacity may not always be the case. 

This is one area that is begging for a congressional investigation.  I suspect that if Congress were to investigate things other than political stuff, we would find a need to reform the conservatory system.  I am betting that abusive conservatorship would come out like the proverbial rats on sinking ship.

So, there ‘tis.