Epileptics 'may be forced to undergo treatment'

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Epileptics and diabetics could be forced to undergo treatment under planned mental health laws, a parliamentary committee said yesterday.

Epileptics and diabetics could be forced to undergo treatment under planned mental health laws, a parliamentary committee said yesterday.

MPs and peers on the Joint Commons and Lords Committee on Human Rights said proposals in the draft Mental Health Bill could infringe patients' human rights.

Ministers argue that mental health legislation needs updating after nearly 20 years and Tony Blair has told MPs that the public wanted tight rules on treating people with severe mental disorders. However, there has been a growing campaign against the plans, culminating in a lobby of Westminster last month.

Protesters have focused on moves to allow the detention of people judged to be suffering severe personality disorders, even though they have not committed a crime, and to force the mentally ill living in the community to take their medicine. In its report, the committee said it had "serious reservations" about some of the planned moves and registered fears that the definition of "mental disorder" was wide enough to include people with addiction or learning disorders.

The committee said: "It might also include illnesses affecting organs other than the brain, but causing effects which interfere with mental functioning, such as epilepsy, and conceivably diabetes if the patient was suffering a hyperglycaemic attack leading to interference with brain function.

"The prospect of a Mental Health Act being used to authorise compulsory treatment of people suffering from diabetes or epilepsy is unattractive."

The MPs and peers said the planned new law removed current restrictions on detention because of "promiscuity or other immoral conduct, sexual deviancy or dependence on drugs or alcohol".

The report said: "The history of the 20th century demonstrated that psychiatry is capable of being abused. Nazi Germany and the USSR were probably not the only countries in which socially or politically unacceptable behaviour was regarded as a manifestation of a 'disorder of the mind'."

The proposed laws could lead to "the compulsory detention ... of people for the protection of others when the people detained have never been charged with any criminal office and nothing can be done to alleviate the mental disorder from which they are suffering."

The committee said: "This raises human rights issues, flowing mainly from the breadth of circumstances in which a patient could be subjected to compulsory, non-consensual treatment."

John Wadham, director of the civil rights group Liberty, shared the committee's concerns. He said: "The draft bill rewrites the definition of mental disorder to make it frighteningly wide and vague.

"People should not be locked up on the basis of what some expert thinks they might do in the future," he said.

"This also risks turning our psychiatrists and mental health nurses into prison warders. This can't be a sensible way forward.

"Medical opinion on the nature of severe personality disorder remains so divided, and assessing dangerousness remains an inexact science. While that remains the case, this power creates too high a risk of serious injustice."

Parliamentarians welcomed some of the proposals and believed the Government had a positive approach to the issue. The committee was confident its concerns would be reflected in the final version of the bill.

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