Why are mental patients’ human rights endangered?

With the passage of time, medicine has developed a system of values. These include compassion, strict observance of procedures based on the best of knowledge, respect for patients and their privacy, acceptance of responsibility for the welfare of patients, non-discrimination and constant striving to improve one’s technical competence. Over the past century, these values, fundamental to the practice of medicine, have begun to receive universal acceptance. It thus seemed that the vast progress of scientific knowledge used by a medical system, convinced of and united in its ethical positions, would bring true benefit to mankind.

Today, this hope seems to be fading. Economic and political pressures in recent years have had a profound impact on the practice of medicine. Once a noble vocation, medicine has begun to transform itself into a trade and health is increasingly handled as if it were a commodity. Progress towards ensuring a strict observance of ethical rules in health care and towards placing the interest of the patient above all other considerations seem to have ground to a halt. In this respect, the achievements of the past several decades are in acute danger of being wiped out. Efficacy is given more importance than empathy and human relationships in health care are seen as a luxury. Health care is planned and carried out with insufficient attention to differences between people. Unjustified limitations on health care budgets make it difficult, if not impossible, to ensure that those who should benefit from the huge advances in health technology realize their right to appropriate treatment and a better quality of life.
These developments are even more pernicious for people suffering from mental illness than for other types of diseases. Mental illness carries with it a stigma and people with mental illness suffer from discrimination. This might have been so over many years : what makes the problem more acute and intervention more urgent is that the recent recognition of the rights of people to receive treatment and help does not seem to include those with mental illness. These people often continue to be abused, neglected and denied access to health and social services. Frequently unable to fight for themselves, they are not heard and their plight is not given due consideration. The defence of their rights is essential.

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