Worrisome Court Decision In Great Britain Following Suicide

The story was published in the UK in The Guardian, Hospital breached duty of care to psychiatric patient, supreme court rules.

An NHS trust breached its duty of care to a 20-year-old [actually 24-year-old] patient who killed herself while on home release from a psychiatric unit, the supreme court has ruled.

This, in my opinion, was a disappointing decision that can only mean the sectioning of more patients in hospitals across Great Britain.

Pennine Care NHS Trust, the supreme court found, breached its “operational obligation” to look after her under Article 2 of the European convention on human rights, which states that “everyone’s right to life shall be protected by law”.

Unfortunately protecting “everyone’s right to life” means interfering with everyone’s right to do whatever they will with that life; specifically, this Article 2 would interfere with a persons right to destroy his or her own life. This “protection” is likely to interfere with the rights of a great many people.

In allowing the family’s appeal against the trust, the supreme court said her parents were the “victims” under the terms of the convention and confirmed that they should receive damages of £2,500 in addition to an earlier settlement.

The good news is that it was not a very big penalty, and so there’s a limit to the extent of a disincentive for releases that it might represent; the bad news is that hospitals now are likely to be more disinclined to release voluntary patients. This disinclination will probably mean the sectioning of more patients who voluntarily admitted themselves into a hospital.

One doctor “noted that, if she attempted or demanded to leave, she should be assessed for detention under the Mental Health Act 1983”. But on 19 April 2005, she was allowed home after requesting leave. Her mother “expressed concern about Melanie [Rabone] coming home for the weekend, but Melanie was keen to do so. On 20 April 2005, Melanie, aged 24, hanged herself from a tree.”

The problem with decisions like this one is that many more patients who are not going to kill themselves are likely to end up paying the price of involuntary confinement for this one patient’s errant way. Hospitals are no better judges than anybody else as to who will, or who won’t, off themselves. Despite this article mentioning what it calls ‘civil liberty groups’ being involved in the arriving at this decision, over this “right to life” issue I imagine, the price that is paid is going to be paid in an overall loss of civil liberties for people, human beings, experiencing the mental health system in the United Kingdom.

2/20/12 Update: I’ve revised my opinion about this decision. I doubt it will make much difference in the long run. I’m keeping the post because of the discussion that ensues. As you will find if you read the comments below, involuntary inpatient treatment has nearly doubled in Great Britain over the last ten years. My premise is that if there was less involuntary treatment before, there is little need for more involuntary treatment after. More involuntary treatment, more sectioning, is indicative of less tolerance in society toward deviant behaviors. More fear in the general public of people experiencing difficulties is disturbing. Increased intolerance is not an improvement in my book.