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"Idiots, infants, and the insane": mental illness and legal incompetence

Authors
Journal
Journal of Medical Ethics
0306-6800
Publisher
BMJ
Publication Date
Volume
31
Issue
2
Identifiers
DOI: 10.1136/jme.2004.008748
Keywords
  • Clinical Ethics
Disciplines
  • Law
  • Medicine
  • Psychology

Abstract

Prior to the second world war, most persons confined in insane asylums were regarded as legally incompetent and had guardians appointed for them. Today, most persons confined in mental hospitals (or treated involuntarily, committed to outpatient treatment) are, in law, competent; nevertheless, in fact, they are treated as if they were incompetent. Should the goal of mental health policy be providing better psychiatric services to more and more people, or the reduction and ultimate elimination of the number of persons in the population treated as mentally ill?

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