By Dr Tharina Annadale

On 21 March we will be celebrating Human Rights Day. With this in mind I would like to go back to the topic of the rights of our clients/patients.

We are all aware of the basic rights that patients/clients have. The most prominent rights are that they are entitled to the best medical care, they should be treated as equals, and that they have the right to deny therapy when they see fit.

An ethical aspect that comes to mind is the “mass screening” of children to establish if they need therapy. Yes, some of you might find it shocking, but this has been happening in schools! Once the child has been identified as a child that needs therapy, teachers suggest that these children attend therapy and sometimes even make it compulsory. The question that arises is, “Do you think that this goes against the child’s human rights, to be tested without consent?”  Of course, different people will have different answers to the question at hand, but I am sure that you will agree that the rights of the parents of the children (in this case the parent will make the choice) to choose whether or not the child should be screened has been disrespected.

Other examples of breaching someone’s human rights can be more complicated. I work in Forensic mental health. In a setting like Forensic mental health, the Mental Health Care Users do not always have the freedom to choose whether or not they should attend therapy. The Mental Health Act (2002), section 42 and 48, states that people admitted under this section should not have a choice about attending rehabilitation sessions. In fact, it is by court order that they are admitted, and the court order also states that individuals that are admitted under this act/section should attend rehabilitation. The question however is, how much freedom should a therapist allow in the choice of attending therapy or groups? Does the basic human right of “freedom of choice” apply to the service users?

These are the questions that we need to ask ourselves in order to respect someone else’s human rights and treat them as equals and respect their identity.  Not all human beings have the same set of values.  This encourages diversity and equality in society, thus, influencing the diversity of choices that therapists make. However, I think that there should be a “golden thread” or “basic acceptable norm” that therapists use to respect the human rights of their clients/patients.  Ethical considerations remain the cornerstone during the treatment of various individuals and set a standard that should be respected so that therapists can have a global understanding of what is wrong and what is right. If we all adhere to the ethical principles of our profession, respecting the human rights of the client/patient will become much easier.

I hope that you are a clinician who asks the difficult questions in life. Only through addressing these questions, will we grow as therapists and start to respect diversity and equality.