Human Rights and Mental Health

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Human Rights and Mental Health

Are human rights infringed in treatments for mental health?

The question of whether human rights are infringed in treatments for mental health has many points to consider. To help answer the question, this essay will outline the basic principles of human rights and draw some comparisons against medical treatments and choices in patients who are of sound mind against patients who are mentally ill. Emphasis will also be given to ethics and the application of them in making decisions for treating people who are mentally ill including some examples of where the application of ethics has been used to make and justify decisions for such treatments.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was produced by the United Nations in 1948 and lays out the rights and freedoms that all humans should have. They are based on the principles of ‘fairness, equality, dignity and respect’ as documented in the BIHR (2006, p6). However, when considering the different rights and freedoms in relation to people being treated for mental health problems it is important to consider the application of them on an individual level. The Mental Health Act, which was introduced in 1983, describes the different categories of mental disorders as follows: -

* Mental illness
* Mental impairment
* Severe mental impairment
* Psychopathic disorder

Solely relying on the different Articles of the Human Rights Act to decide the provision of treatments to the mentally ill would discount the different spectrums seen within each of the above categories and would instead assume that everyone has the equal ability to understand what is in their own interests. The use of ethical reasoning can therefore be applied to support decisions made as ethics themselves are used to study what is right or wrong, good or bad and are broken into the following three categories: -

* Meta-ethics in which the use of language and meaning of words is looked at to discuss how true the expression is * Normative ethics is used to find practical moral standards or a code in which we live our normal lives by * Applied ethics is the application of theories about what is right, wrong, good or bad.

The application of ethics is further broken down into three variations: Situation Ethics, Utilitarianism and Kantian Ethics, each having a different theory on which they depend. Situation ethics applies the approach that a decision should be made out of love and doing the right thing for the other person unconditionally. Utilitarianism is a consequentialist theory which basis its actions upon the results achieved with the mindset, ‘the greatest good for the greatest number’. Kantian ethics basis its theory on what is right when applying the use of reason and logic.

The Ministry of Ethics states that the Mental Health Act attempts to address two issues “the need to protect the patient him/herself and to protect the general public from the patient” (ministryofethics, p10). Under this Act a mental disorder is classified as “any disorder or disability of the mind” (section 1). The fundamental rights of a person who is mentally ill differ from a person who is sound of mind due to their limited ability to quantify different situations. Under the Mental Health Act a mentally ill person has limitations in their rights to decide or accept medical care as opposed to a normal person who would have every right to decline treatment if they did not want it to proceed. In a study carried out by Gresham College the question that mental health law itself discriminates unfairly against people with mental illnesses was addressed. Comparisons were drawn against the forced treatment of an individual with a mental illness – schizophrenia - and the choice available to the patient with a physical illness. The patient being treated for schizophrenia had limitations to their human rights due to their deemed incapacity to make a decision in their own...
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