Legitimacy and ethics of coercion in mental health questioned in new paper


Mad in Ireland recently wrote about the need for a real change in our mental health laws and policies if human rights and a non-coercive system is to truly be realised.

Now, a new analysis backs up this point of view by questioning the legitimacy and ethics of involuntary psychiatric hospitalisation, restraints, and other forms of ill-treatment in mental health institutions, calling for a reevaluation of these practices to align with universal human rights standards.

The article critically examines the intricate and often conflicting legal frameworks governing mental health care in Europe, highlighting a significant clash between the CRPD’s human rights standards and the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) current practices, especially concerning the rights of people with psychosocial disabilities.

The author, János Fiala-Butora, from the HUN-REN Centre for Social Sciences in Budapest and the University of Galway, points out the discrepancies and potential harmonization between the CRPD’s strict stance against involuntary detention for mental health treatment and the ECHR’s more permissive view under certain conditions.

Fiala-Butora, writes:

“The CRPD and the ECHR are currently interpreted differently. However, their text is not an obstacle to harmonising the interpretation of the two instruments. Article 5 of the ECHR permits involuntary hospitalisation but currently does not require it to be available. Psychiatric treatment only provided with consent would comply with both instruments.” 

This analysis not only reveals a gap in the application of human rights laws in the context of mental health but also underscores the need for a more nuanced understanding and implementation of these laws. By exposing the divergence in legal interpretations and the unexplored potential for reform, Fiala-Butora’s work challenges mainstream approaches to psychiatry and mental health treatment, urging a shift towards compliance with universal human rights standards that respect the dignity and autonomy of individuals with mental health conditions.


A version of this article first appeared on our sister site Mad in America.