China’s New Mental Health Law Unlikely to Curb Abuse

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Originally published in NTDtv on May 1, 2013

China’s first-ever mental health law came into effect on May 1. Now, mentally ill patients need to give consent before they’re institutionalized. The law was designed to better protect the rights of patients, but analysts say loopholes exist within the new law, and that abuse of the mental health system will still happen.

[Zhang Zanning, Law Profession. Southeastern University]
“For a long time, authorities have labeled certain individuals as mental patients, even when they’re not. These cases, like petitioners or those who have dissenting opinions, are sent to mental institutions by authorities.”


The new law was designed to stop these types of wrongful admittance. But while patients now need to agree before getting treatment, there is an exception. Namely, those with severe mental illness, or have the potential to harm themselves or others can be forced into institutions by the police.


[Zhang Zanning, Law Profession. Southeastern University]
“The management of this is still in the hands of the Public Security bureau, not the Health Ministry, so this is a big concern for me.”


While the law says that these forcibly admitted patients need to be diagnosed at the hospital, some still have reservations.


[Jing Chu, Freelance Writer]
“Right now under China’s political system, authorities have the biggest say in how things are done. So this means that doctors may not be free to make the correct diagnosis.”


In 2002, US-based Human Rights Watch published an extensive report about China’s government-led psychiatric abuse of dissidents and practitioners of the persecution Falun Gong spiritual practice.


Last August, advocacy group, Chinese Human Rights Defenders reported that this politically-motivated abuse continues, and that hundreds of thousands of people are detained in psychiatric hospitals each year against their will.

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