China bans forced mental hospital detentions: media

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Originally published in New Straits Times on May 2, 2013

BEIJING: A new law has taken effect prohibiting Chinese from being committed to mental hospitals without their consent in an attempt to prevent “forced detentions”, state-run media said Thursday.

China’s first mental health law comes after right groups accused  authorities of locking up hundreds of thousands of people in psychiatric  hospitals each year, often as a form of punishment for dissidents.

The new regulation, which took effect Wednesday, “aims to stop mental  hospitals from admitting patients against their will, a practice that  previously triggered public outrage amid accusations of forced detentions”, the  Global Times said.

It “requires Chinese psychiatric facilities to gain consent from mentally  ill patients before taking them in for treatment”.

Mental hospitals will also have to obtain patients’ permission to  administer treatment and respect their requests to be discharged.

The law will not apply, however, to “those with conditions severe enough to  warrant guardianship or who have the potential to harm themselves or others”,  the Global Times said.

The group Chinese Human Rights Defenders said in a report last August that  the hundreds of thousands of people committed involuntarily to mental hospitals  each year include activists, dissidents and petitioners.

The powerful and wealthy can also abuse the system to lock up opponents, it  said, adding that patients are subject to forced medical treatment and physical  abuse such as electric shocks.

They are often barred from contacting family members or lawyers and stand  little chance of arguing their case in court, the report said.

A psychiatrist quoted in the Global Times called the new measure an  important step but questioned how effectively it could be carried out.

The law “does not answer detailed questions such as how to determine the  consent of a potentially mentally ill person”, it cited Zhang Xinkai, of the  Shanghai Mental Health Centre, as saying. — AFP

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