University of Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)
Can psychiatric terminology be translated into legal regulation? The anorexia nervosa example
Version of Record online: 15 SEP 2004
Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry
Volume 38, Issue 10, pages 819–829, October 2004
How to Cite
Beumont, P. and Carney, T. (2004), Can psychiatric terminology be translated into legal regulation? The anorexia nervosa example. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 38: 819–829. doi: 10.1111/j.1440-1614.2004.01467.x
A revised version of a paper delivered at the 28th Congress of the International Academy of Law and Mental Health, Sydney, 3 October, 2003. Professor Beumont died two days before the paper was first presented.
- Issue online: 15 SEP 2004
- Version of Record online: 15 SEP 2004
- Received 27 November 2003; revised 15 April 2004; accepted 16 April 2004.
- anorexia nervosa;
- mental health law;
- mental illness;
- review tribunals
Objective: To explore the tension between the definition of mental illness in clinical psychiatry and its embodiment in legislation applied by tribunals reviewing decisions to treat.
Method: Severe anorexia nervosa is used as a case exemplar of the tension between the appropriate narrative to express the clinical imperative to treat and the law's focus on finer technical language which secures individual civil rights and liberties. Australian and international experience is reviewed.
Results: The paper finds that the clinical and the legal narratives about how to ‘define’ mental illness do differ at the formal level of expression where they necessarily intersect in the setting of tribunal review of involuntary treatment decisions. However, in practice mental health admissions and tribunal reviews generally endorse the clinical applications of that more capacious and fluid terminology of clinical psychiatry.
Conclusions: While tribunal reviews of clinical decisions may occasionally require clinicians to participate in an unfamiliar legal dialogue about narrowly construed definitions of mental illness, tribunals apply more complex tests which are sensitive to clinical practice and good therapeutic objectives.