'Let patients enlist deputies to protect interests'

Updated: 2011-11-16 07:52

By Zhao Yinan (China Daily)

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BEIJING - Xu Wu says that after he was illegally forced to live in a mental hospital for more than 1,600 days, he cherishes nothing more than freedom now.

The Hubei province resident and four other people who say they were wrongfully placed in a mental hospital sent a letter to the country's top legislature on Monday, calling for a policy that will let patients enlist deputies - either relatives or lawyers - to help them appeal diagnoses they disagree with.

The letter offers advice about two draft laws that are now being discussed by the National People's Congress Standing Committee - the draft mental health law and the draft amendment to the Civil Procedural Law. Both of them attempt to protect the rights of the mentally ill and to prevent people from being forced into hospitals illegally.

The draft mental health law, submitted to the top legislature for a first reading in October, says an insane person should only be placed into a hospital in a way that accords with the "voluntary principle". It also says that only patients who suffer from severe mental disorders, or are believed to pose dangers to society, can be rehabilitated without giving their consent.

Xu Wu, though, said the proposal will not go far enough to prevent illegal rehabilitations. In their letter, Xu and his friends suggested allowing mental patients to enlist a deputy to fight for their interests when they believe they have been wrongfully sent to a hospital.

The deputies could try to protect the legal rights of patients by making appeals on their behalf.

By Tuesday, the top legislature had not issued an opinion about the proposal, Xu said.

The 43-year-old said he had been illegally kept in a hospital from 2006 to this year after he had complained about making low wages when he had worked as a security guard. Although Xu was discharged from the institution in May, an official investigation concluded that he should still receive medical treatment for paranoid disorder.

Tang Hongyu, vice-president of Peking University Sixth Hospital, a well-known mental hospital, said forced rehabilitations can illegally deprive a person of his freedom and that a means should exist to prevent such abuses of power.

Tang said many mental patients cannot receive medical treatment because they do not have access to the necessary resources.

"So it is equally important to protect these people's rights as well, in addition to protecting the healthy from being illegally put into the hospital," the psychiatrist said.

Liu Jiajia, a program officer from the Shenzhen-based Equity and Justice Initiative, a non-profit organization specializing in eliminating discrimination, admitted that disagreements exist between legal experts and doctors.

"There still needs to be time to bridge the discrepancy, but at least it's possible to allow patients to keep in touch with the outside world so that they can reach out to people they trust."