Chinese Mental Health Act Debates Rights for Those Who Have Been “Deemed Mental”

29 Jun

China’s Ministry of Health, in addition to its announcement of establishing a blacklist for journalists and netizens who write about food and
health scandals, has published an update to the Mental Health Act (“精神卫生法”) which has prompted much debate over the rights of those who are commited to mental institutions by the authorities.  As the headline from an article on QQ points out, at issue is who has the authority to commit someone to a mental institution?  When someone is deemed “被精神病” they are labeled as having a mental problem, aka “deemed mental.”  Once you’ve been “deemed mental” by the authorities, you have entered the “Cuckoo’s Nest.”

An article on SOHU points out that the Mental Health Act provides that those responsible for institutionalizing people will be held criminally liable.  Apparently there has been considerable abuse by authorities who want to dispose of people who speak out against injustices in local communities.  One way to do that has been to commit people to mental institutions against their will, as this cartoon illustrates.

The cartoon below appears with an article posted on Phoenix Net, a Hong Kong-based news outlet, that highlights the fact there are 16 million Chinese patients suffering severe psychosis, 70% of whom have not received standard treatment and who continue to suffer, while at the same time, there are perfectly sane citizens, who because of complex social events, have been institutionalized and tortured. The article says there are
six major disputes associated with the issue of “institutionalizing” citizens who are mentally healthy.  The cartoon below refers to a case in Shenzhen in which a nurse was “deemed mental” because she had once filed a petition with the authorities to seek relief from perceived injustices.

The six issues raised by the Mental Health Act are:

1. 保护精神障碍者及时治疗,还是防止正常人“被精神病”?

Is it protection and timely treatment of patients with mental disorders or is it prevention of institutionalizing people who are normal?

2. 精神障碍的诊治究竟是医学范畴还是司法范畴

Is the treatment of mental disorders in fact a medical category or a judicial one?

3. 监护人的权限有多大?

How limited are the rights of guardians?

4. 非自愿住院治疗,使用医学标准还是法律标准?

Does involuntary hospitalization involve the use of medical standards or legal standards?
5. “扰乱公共秩序能否作为非自愿诊断和收治标准?

Can “disturbing public order” be used as a standard for involuntary diagnosis and treatment?

6. 非自愿住院治疗的最后判定,能否由司法鉴定机构作出?

Can the final determination of involuntary hospitalization be made by forensic institutions?

The cartoon above appears on SINA.com and shows someone (perhaps a hospital administrator?) looking through a rule book on mental health provisions for the special economic zone of Shenzhen standing on a black hat representing those who are committed to mental health institutions and thinking to himself “this way is much safer.”

This cartoon from the ST Daily illustrates the idea that the Mental Health Act is arguing that authorities cannot force a person to have his or her mental health examined and called into question. At least there is some form of debate on the issue of protecting the rights of people who are targeted for examination of their mental health.  We might say that it’s a real Ken Kesey “Cuckoo’s Nest” moment for China.

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