Persons with mental illness are especially vulnerable as disadvantaged persons whose rights have been restricted. Medical and psychotherapeutic technology can constitute a threat to the physical and intellectual integrity of the mentally-ill individual. There have been disturbing reports the scientific and technological products and methods have been misused in the treatment of persons detained on ground of mental illness.
The rights of mentally ill people have been outlined in the UN Commission of Human Right's "Principles for the Protection of Persons with Mental Illness and for the Improvement of Mental Health Care (1991). They cover the following areas: access to fundamental freedoms and basic rights; protection of minors; rights to life in the community and community care; rights in respect of diagnosis, examination, standards of care, treatment and medication; notice of rights and complaints procedure, access to personal information and rights to confidentiality; rights and conditions in mental health facilities (including equal status with other health establishments, admission principles, and review); procedural safeguards; and the rights of the criminal offenders who are mentally ill.
Mental patients are denied the same legal rights as are accorded to ordinary citizens and even to criminals. A mental patient may be committed voluntarily or against his will to a psychiatric hospital from which, if he wishes to leave, he may have to prove before a tribunal that he is not insane (even in countries where a prisoner on trial is deemed innocent until proven guilty). He may be allowed no legal representation at the tribunal and once its decision is made, there may be no right of appeal. If he is not guilty of a criminal offence, habeas corpus cannot be invoked for his release. During internment there is no machinery for appeal against abuse by psychiatrists and psychiatric workers. The treatment alone may be brutal and disturbing, but other 'illegal' excesses have also been brought to light in recent years. Patients may be committed to hospital for political or family reasons. Diagnosis of mental disorder and hence treatment is widely disputed among different psychiatrists and yet in most cases the opinion of only one is needed to certify a person insane in the first instance and to prolong hospitalization thereafter. Relatives, psychiatric workers and the state (in the case of political prisoners) may confiscate the property of certified patients.
In the UK, for example, a mental patient may apply for a discharge 6 months after he has been committed, and again after 6 months, and also at the end of the 2nd year; from then on, only at 2-year intervals. Under Japanese law, a superintendent of a mental hospital can commit a patient indefinitely without he patient's consent and without the opinion of independent psychiatrists if the person responsible for the patient, usually a family member, gives consent.