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Proposed law will protect the mentally ill


10:50, October 26, 2012

CHINA is mulling a long-awaited law for mental health, 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. Mental illness can also undermine the reputation of the people concerned.

In his report to the top legislature in October 2011, China's health minister, Chen Zhu, admitted the lack of protocols for compulsory treatment of mentally ill people was 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 therapies for a 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 mental hospitals can receive. Thus they can easily make profits by diagnosing a mental illness that doesn't exist and making money off treatments.

A well-known case from 2010 in Shandong Province saw a healthy man take a mental hospital and his wife to court.

After having marriage problems his wife tried to have him admitted to the mental hospital for compulsory treatment.

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

Similar situations can be avoided if the draft law is passed by the top legislature.

The draft stipulates every mental illness diagnosis should be made by a qualified psychiatrist. Patients can decide to undergo treatment or not, and only those who are diagnosed with a severe mental illness and have the potential to harm themselves and others should be sent for compulsory inpatient treatment, the draft states.

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