China’s New Mental Health Law: Reframing Involuntary Treatment

Author: 
Michael R. Phillips, M.D., M.P.H.; Hanhui Chen, M.D., Ph.D.; Kate Diesfeld, J.D.; Bin Xie, M.D.; Hui G. Cheng, Ph.D.; Graham Mellsop, M.D.; Xiehe Liu, M.D.
Publication date: 
1 June 2013

Am J Psychiatry 2013;170:588-591. 10.1176/appi.ajp.2013.12121559

After 27 years of often contentious debate, China’s first national mental health legislation was adopted by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress on October 26, 2012, with the law taking effect on May 1, 2013 (1). Over the coming decades, this wide-ranging law will fundamentally transform the provision of mental health services in China.

How has this law come into being? From 1985 through 1999, 10 proposed versions of the law were primarily debated in academic circles, spearheaded by the efforts of Professor Xiehe Liu (2). After 1999, the responsibility for the development of the law was taken over by the Ministry of Health. Over the next decade, several large municipalities around the country adopted their own mental health regulations (3), gaining experience that helped in the formulation of the national statute (which will now supersede local regulations). Multiple versions of the national law were debated by expert committees convened by the Ministry. The members of these committees were primarily prominent psychiatrists, public health experts, and legal experts. Other professional groups, individuals with mental illnesses, and the families of the mentally ill had little role in the formulation of the law, although they were able to make comments on the law after the draft version was released for public comment in June 2011...

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