Mental health law can better protect human rights

Updated: 2012-10-25 17:40


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BEIJING - China is mulling a long-awaited law for mental health, a law which is expected to better protect people's rights by prohibiting abuses of compulsory inpatient treatment.

The draft law was presented on Tuesday for a third reading at a four-day bimonthly session of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, China's top legislature.

It includes provisions on ensuring the safety of property belonging to patients with mental disorders, and more importantly, it is expected to eliminate abuses regarding compulsory mental health treatment and protect citizens from undergoing unnecessary treatment or illegal hospitalization.

The treatment of mental illness involves dignity and freedom, the basic rights of people, as it often takes extreme measures and restricts personal freedom. It can also undermine the reputation of the people concerned.

In his report to the top legislature in October last year, China's health minister, Chen Zhu, admitted that the lack of protocol for compulsory treatment for mentally ill people is one of the major problems in mental health services.

Due to the absence of laws and procedures, some healthy people have been treated with unnecessary compulsory therapies for their nonexistent mental illness. Compulsory treatment has sometimes been used as a tool for people who have conflicts with their relatives, or even someone in power.

In addition, there are no limits placed on the number of patients that mental hospitals can receive, so they can easily make profits by diagnosing mental illness and receiving healthy people for compulsory treatment, leading to loopholes that can violate people's rights and freedom.

A well-known case from 2010 in East China's Shandong province saw a healthy man make a court appeal against a mental hospital and his wife, with whom he had been engaged in domestic conflict, of trying to have him admitted to the hospital for compulsory treatment.

The court decision asked the hospital to pay the man 5,000 yuan ($791) in compensation for "violating the citizen's personal freedom".

Similar situations can be avoided if the draft law is passed by the top legislature, as it stipulates every mental illness diagnosis should be made by a qualified psychiatrist. Patients can decide to receive the treatment or not on their own volition, and only those who are diagnosed with a severe mental illness and have the potential to harm themselves or others should be sent for compulsory inpatient treatment, the draft says.

In addition, it proposes banning any physical exam for diagnosis of mental disorder against people's wills, and stipulates that any violators of the law will bear civil or even criminal liabilities.

The draft law shows great progress as it implements the Constitution's spirit of protecting human rights, stressing the patients' autonomy on inpatient treatment.