Involuntary Treatment, a Human Right?

Throughout this semester we have discussed many issues pertaining to access to medicine. Most of our discussions have centered on the removal of negative restrictions that limit an individual or groups access to necessary medications.

New York State implemented an assisted outpatient treatment, involuntary treatment, law after two people were assaulted in the subway system by untreated men. The law is known as Kendra’s Law, named after one of the victims. DJ Jaffe writes for

Studies over 10 years have shown Kendra’s Law helps the seriously mentally ill by reducing homelessness (74%); suicide attempts (55%) and substance abuse (48%); keeps the public safer by reducing physical harm to others (47%) and property destruction (43%); and saves money by reducing hospitalization (77%); arrests (83%) and incarceration (87%). Surprisingly, 81 percent of those ordered into treatment said AOT helped them get and stay well.

Forced medication seems to benefit the individuals who receive the treatment. Does the fact that these people do not seek the initial treatment themselves constitute a violation of their rights? Or is forced treatment a mechanism that seeks to protect the human rights of the greater portion of society? Jaffee argues that the New York State Office of Mental Health does not go far enough, and does not extend treatment to a large enough population. I am not sure how I feel about this. Jaffe is founder of Mental Illness Policy Org, a pro-treatment organization. The organizations overwhelming website has vast amounts of information in support of forced medication.  

Implied within Jaffe’s argument is mental health patients are a violent threat to society, and therefore should be forced to take medication. I do acknowledge that there have been violent acts committed by patient who may have been well served by medication, but these acts represent a minority of cases.

This week South Korea is chemically castrating a repeat sex offended. This is the first time the judiciary of the nation is implementing this punishment after its allowance by a 2010 law. The offender is pending release from prison, conditional upon regular injections to decrease his level of testosterone. The injections deal with his deviance on a hormonal level, though they do not serve to socially rehabilitate his condition. 

In discussing the rights of the patient who receive involuntary treatment- Is it possible that these procedures are a violation of individual civil rights, while concurrently serving to protect the human rights of a larger society?

1 comment
  1. evelynatiemo said:

    This is a very interesting post, Jared. It somewhat reminds me of a situation that occurred with MSF back in February, which was the topic of one of my blog posts. MSF decided to discontinue providing medical relief to Libyan detainees who were being tortured in Libyan detention centers, and then consequently sent to MSF for medical treatment. What was even more disturbing was that these detainees were being sent back to MSF for additional treatment after enduring more torturous interrogation sessions. When MSF learned of what was going on, they demanded a stop to it. But when that was to no avail, they made the decision to withdraw from Libya and suspend their medical relief to the detainees.

    Although Kendra’s Law is much different from the MSF/Libyan situation, both seem to have the undertone of a conundrum that cannot easily be answered. If you are to look at the situation, from say, the perspective of the General Assembly of the United Nations, it would make sense for New York State to adopt Kendra’s Law. After all, according to Article 29 (3) of the Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1948:

    “In the exercise of his rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society.”

    So by administering forced medication to the mentally ill, New York State could argue that they are simply recognizing and respecting the rights and freedoms of others; since a victim of assault is having his/her own rights and freedoms violated by their perpetrator. Also, those who are mentally ill often times lack the ability to think for themselves. HOWEVER, you could also look at the situation from a perspective that wholeheartedly recognizes and respects all citizens (even if they are mentally ill)…Like many topics that pop up within the realm of human rights, involuntary treatment appears to be a topic that raises more questions than provides answers.

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