Substituted Decision Making and Coercion: The Socially Accepted Problem in Psychiatric Practice and a CRPD-Based Response to Them


  • Giles Newton-Howes University of Otago
  • Leah Kininmonth University of Otago
  • Sarah Gordon University of Otago



Psychiatry has a long tradition of enforcing ‘care’ within mental health settings, through formal and informal coercion, often with little regard to decision-making capacity. Despite scant evidence for the effectiveness of coercive interventions and the wide variation in their application, indicating structural as opposed to health-driven reasons for use, coercive practices continue to be routinely used internationally. This is notwithstanding the recovery model of care that is endorsed on a national public policy level in many countries. Further, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and its Committee make plain that the use of practices of coercion for those who experience disability, including people who experience psychosocial disability, are unacceptable and in breach of their and other international conventions. The CRPD is interpreted as demanding an end to coercion, primarily through substitute decision-making being replaced with supported decision-making. This critical analysis examines the development of coercive practices in psychiatry, how they have become embedded as both common and socially acceptable, and approaches that may help to reduce their use in light of the CRPD. Models of care where changes have been successful in reducing substitute decision-making and promoting supported decision-making are highlighted to challenge some of the inertia to change.






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