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HOME  > Past issues  > 2017 May 10 - 16  > Increase in surveillance of mentally-disabled people is unacceptable
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2017 May 10 - 16 [SOCIAL ISSUES]
editorial 

Increase in surveillance of mentally-disabled people is unacceptable

May 10, 2017
Akahata editorial (excerpt)

The Abe government-proposed bill to revise the Mental Health and Welfare Law is now being discussed in the House of Councilors. Mentally disabled people and medical experts are harshly criticizing the bill for aiming to tighten surveillance on the disabled. The bill’s pillar is to strengthen the current involuntary hospitalization program. Under the program, the mentally-disabled will be hospitalized against their will if these patients are diagnosed with the possibility of causing harm to themselves or others. The Abe government insists that the revision is necessary to prevent a recurrence of murder citing the case of a man who had been admitted to a mental hospital under the program. However, the high-profile incident which occurred last year in Kanagawa’s Sagamihara City cannot be used as a reason for the proposed amendment. In addition, it is becoming clear that the bill will infringe on the basic human rights of people with mental problems.

Government retracts reason to propose the bill

The government explains that the bill is aimed at providing “continuous support” for those who completed their involuntary hospitalization term. If the bill is enacted, each involuntary admission patient will be placed in a support program drawn up by local governments regardless of the patient’s or their families’ opinions; the patients cannot refuse to participate; police officers will be allowed to join in the “support team”; and when a person under the support program moves to another municipality, the municipality will be informed that the person is subject to the program. These provisions clearly indicate that the bill’s main goal is not to support mentally-disabled persons but to allow police authorities to keep tabs on them, which infringes on their right to privacy and freedom to freely choose their place of residence.

Regarding this plan to revise the Mental Health and Welfare Law, Prime Minister Abe Shinzo in his policy speech in January said that the government will work to prevent a recurrence of last year’s murder incident by such means as providing continuous support for those who were released from involuntary hospitalization. Abe’s remark shows that the proposed revision focuses on measures to prevent crimes and to maintain public order although the law is supposed to offer medical and welfare support for the mentally disabled.

After the content of the bill was made public, persons concerned raised voices of protest, saying that the bill is based on the prejudice that mentally-disabled persons are potential criminals. In mid-April when the Diet was discussing the bill, Welfare Minister Shiozaki Yasuhisa at a House of Councilors Welfare Committee meeting said that the government retracts its explanation that the bill is to prevent a recurrence of a murder similar to the case in Sagamihara last year. Met with fierce criticism, the government crossed out the main reason why it deemed the bill necessary. Now that the bill has lost its initial meaning, the government should retract it without delay.

In the first place, there is no proven causal relationship between the Sagamihara murder suspect’s involuntary hospitalization history and his horrible deed. It is unreasonable to think that the compulsory admission program will contribute to crime prevention. This idea is based on a mistaken notion that the mentally disabled are a threat to society. The bill will fuel discrimination and prejudice against former mental patients and should be discarded. The ruling coalition intends to push the bill through the Upper House Welfare Committee by the end of this week. Such action is totally unacceptable.

Government should do more to safeguard human rights of mental patients

When the government offers more medical support for the mentally disabled, it should aim solely to maintain or improve their mental health. Involuntary hospitalization patients may need assistance in returning to their local communities, but the government should ensure their human rights when providing such support.

The Abe government should give up its attempt to create a system to keep tabs on the mentally disturbed. Instead, it should strengthen human rights protection based on the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
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