Mental Health Centres directed not to place patients with suicidal/behavioural problems in the nude in solitary confinement

Kerala High Court:  Observing that the right to life is the right to live with dignity which applies equally to those of sound mental disposition and challenged otherwise, the question before the Court was whether in the anxiety to preserve the life of the mentally challenged, are they being shredded of their dignity by denying them clothes in confinement. Deciding an interim application in a PIL* against the practice of confining some of the mentally challenged patients with suicidal tendencies in the nude in the Mental Health Centres in the State, the Court has directed that clothes be provided of suitable material, which would make it impossible for the patients to snuff out their own life.

The Bench of K. Vinod Chandran, J. categorically observed that “preservation of life being the paramount consideration at the initial stage, drastic measures taken of isolation and ensuring that the patient has no access to means by which he/she can take one’s own life is necessary, at least till the medications stabilises their moods and thoughts. But such measures cannot be without ensuring the basic dignity of an individual; who whether mentally stable or otherwise, is entitled to an amount of privacy; at least to cover his/her body not exposing it to the public or even to the few doctors and attendants visiting them.”

The Court observed that “Even given the lofty intention of preserving life, it has to be maintained with atleast the minimum dignity possible. Any man or woman, more so the latter, brought up in the present society would not like his/her private parts to be exposed to any other, without consent. This would be acute in the case of individuals with  heightened thoughts whose helplessness in such states, would only drive them to further desperation and depression.  Confinement in cells that too in nude, would result in the inner torments assuming an ominous form, driving them to sure death at their own hands, if not when in confinement, when released therefrom”.
The Directors and doctors in the centres were directed to ensure that  none of the patients, even those with acute suicidal tendencies, when placed in seclusion, shall be so placed nude, unless very acute situation warrants the same. Issuing detailed guidelines in this regard, the Court directed that a committee of doctors, superintendents and psychiatrists should approve if a patient warrants such a treatment and in that case it shall ensure that the patient is not exposed to anyone of the opposite sex, not even the staff of MHCs. [High Court Legal Aid Committee v. State of Kerala, 2016 SCC OnLine Ker 462, order dated March 29, 2016]

*Ed.: PIL filed on the basis of the direction of the Supreme Court in Sheela Barse v. Union of India, (1995) 5 SCC 654.

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