The epistemic injustice of mental health legislation

A/Prof Giles Newton-Howes1

1University of Otago, Wellington, New Zealand

Mental health legislation, legislation that aims to require those deemed to have a mental illness to accept treatment, is commonplace in the Western world.   In parallel with this there is a global movement that challenges mental health legislation based on human rights.  This may not, however, be the only grounds for a bioethical challenge to mental health legislation.  This paper aims to set out both epistemic, and by extension, moral arguments that mental health legislation is unjust.  The only ethical response to these problems is, we argue, abolishing mental health legislation completely.  This approach is novel, compelling and requires individual and government attention.


Giles Newton-Howes is an associate professor at the University of Otago, Wellington and an affiliate of the bioethics centre in Dunedin.  He is a practicing psychiatrist working in  regional personality disorder service.  Giles has active research interests in personality, addiction and social psychiatry, with a particular emphasis on the doctor patient relationship and the social pressure that mould this.  Mental health legislation is one such pressure.

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