An important bill that seeks to decriminalise suicide and advocates providing right to better healthcare for people suffering from mental illness was welcomed and supported by all in Lok Sabha on Friday.
The Mental Healthcare Bill, which was passed by the Rajya Sabha with 134 official amendments in August last year, was moved for consideration and passage by Health Minister J P Nadda who said it was introduced in the Lower House after wide-ranging consultations with experts, academia and others.
It found support from the opposition, though the debate on it remained inconclusive. "The bill empowers the patients for mental healthcare. It gives them the right so that he/she is not denied (treatment) or discriminated against.
The focus is on community mental healthcare...it is a rights-based bill," Nadda said. The measure provides that a person who attempts suicide shall be presumed to be suffering from mental illness at that time and will not be punished under the Indian Penal Code.
It also seeks to protect and promote the right of persons with mental illness during the delivery of healthcare in institutions and in the community.
A unique feature of the bill is that it allows adults to make an advance directive on how they wish to be treated in case they suffer from mental illness in future.
Such a person can also chose a nominative representative who would take care of him or her, the Minister said.It clearly defines mental illness and mental healthcare, he said, adding that the earlier definition was vague.
There are also provisions under which a person cannot be sterilised just because he or she is a mental patient. "As per this law, we cannot separate a child for three years... Also, one cannot chain a mentally-ill person," the Minister said. "We tried to see that the patient is protected and no coercive methodology is adopted. Persons who will not adhere to it will be liable to penalty and imprisonment. This is a very progressive bill," he said.
The Bill focusses on community based treatment. Special provisions for women and health have also been provided for.Among the various objectives, it provides for ensuring healthcare, treatment and rehabilitation of persons with mental illness "in a manner that does not intrude on their rights and dignity."
India is a signatory to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, an international human rights treaty of the United Nations. Around 6-7 per cent of India's population suffers from some kind of mental illnesses, while 1-2 per cent suffer from acute mental disease.