January 21, 2020 – His mother, Pat, 91, of Wauwatosa, agreed. “Sheer torment,” she said of her son’s life. “For him and for us.” Spoerl was born and raised in Wauwatosa, the third of four children in what friends and neighbors described as the all-American family. His older sister Margie is a doctor. His older brother Joe is chairman of the philosophy department at St. Anselm College in New Hampshire. Joan, the youngest, is a literacy specialist. John was diagnosed with schizophrenia as a teenager and turned to street drugs to calm the voices in his head. His family tried everything they could think of to help him. With his sharp wit and high intelligence, Spoerl was often declared not dangerous enough to be committed against his will.  The Spoerls spent decades trying to call attention to people like John who do not recover. Pat was one of the original members of the Milwaukee chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, and regularly attended county Mental Health Task Force meetings, petitioning for better services for people with severe and chronic illness. But people didn’t want to listen, she said. She made them feel uncomfortable.  “It’s not honest to pretend that people like John and I aren’t here,” Pat said in a 2011 series in the Journal Sentinel. “I know hundreds of people like myself.”

John and his mother frequently debated the merits of compelling people to take medication against their will.

“People have a right to refuse,” Spoerl told his mother in a 2011 interview. “They shouldn’t be forced to do anything against their will.”

His mother disagreed. “But what if their sickness keeps them from knowing that they need that medicine to be better,” she said.



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