Rising to the human rights challenge in compulsory treatment - new approaches to mental health law in Australia

Centre for Values, Ethics and the Law in Medicine, University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW 2006, Australia.
Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry (Impact Factor: 3.77). 02/2012; 46(7):611-20. DOI: 10.1177/0004867412438872
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT To analyse, and explain to Australasian psychiatrists, recent proposed changes to the terms of coercive treatment for mental illness in Tasmania and Victoria and to place the proposals in the context of a broader human rights framework that is likely to impact the future shape of mental health legislation more generally.
The Australian law reform proposals are reviewed against the requirements of numerous human rights instruments, including the recently ratified United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Ethical and legal arguments are made to support the proposed changes and to introduce others, taking into account academic commentary on mental health law and recent empirical work on the ability to usefully categorise patients by their likelihood of harm to self and others.
The Victorian and Tasmanian draft mental health bills propose a new basis for compulsory psychiatric treatment in Australasia. If they become law, coercive psychiatric treatment could only be applied to patients who lack decision-making capacity. The Tasmanian draft bill also sets a new benchmark for timely independent review of compulsory treatment. However both jurisdictions propose to retain an 'additional harm' test which must be satisfied before patients may be treated without consent. This differs from non-psychiatric cases, where if patients are unable to consent to medical treatment for themselves, they will be entitled to receive coercive treatment if it is in their best interests.
The proposed changes under the Tasmanian and Victorian draft mental health bills will ensure that, in line with local and international human rights obligations, only patients who lack decision-making capacity may be coercively treated for mental illness. However the continuing 'additional harm' criteria may breach human rights obligations by imposing a discriminatory threshold for care on patients who are unable to consent to treatment for themselves. This could be avoided by replacing the 'additional harm' test with a 'best interests' test.

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May 17, 2014