ABSTRACT

I T IS somewhat fashionable to stress the similarities betweenphysical and mental disorder. Yet one obvious and crucial difference is that a mentally ill person may be legally deprived of his rights and his liberty and be detained, against his wishes, for observation and treatment in hospital, whereas someone suffering from a physical illness, even a lethal one, is free to disregard medical advice, refuse treatment, and risk his own life in the process. In Britain, compulsory hospitalization is governed by the Mental Health Act (1959), a piece of legislation that resulted from the lengthy and searching deliberations of the Royal Commission on the Law Relating to Mental Illness and Mental Deficiency which sat between 1954 and 1957. The Commission recognized that 'advances in medical knowledge, new methods of treatment and the development ofnew organs ofgovernment and new social services' demanded changes in the medical and administrative methods whereby such objects were pursued. The Mental Health Act laid down the obligations and the functions of the hospitals and the iocal authorities in the treatment of the mentally ill. The statutory limitation of treatment of 'persons of unsound mind' in specially designated hospitals was removed and hospital authorities were enabled to arrange for any kind of hospital to receive any

type of mental patient whether on an informal (Le., voluntary) basis or under a compulsory order.