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Ethics of deliberation, consent and coercion in psychiatry
  1. A Liégeois1,
  2. M Eneman2
  1. 1
    Faculty of Theology, Catholic University of Leuven, Leuven, Belgium
  2. 2
    University Psychiatric Hospital St-Kamillus, Bierbeek, Belgium
  1. Professor A Liégeois, Faculty of Theology, Catholic University of Leuven, Sint-Michielsstraat 6, 3000 Leuven, Belgium; axel.liegeois{at}


In psychiatry, caregivers try to get free and informed consent of patients, but often feel required to restrict freedom and to use coercion. The present article develops ethical advice given by an Ethics Committee for Mental Health Care. The advice recommends an ethical ideal of shared deliberation, consisting of information, motivation, consensus and evaluation. For the exceptional use of coercion, the advice develops three criteria, namely incapacity to deliberate, threat of serious harm and proportionality between harm and coercion.

The article also discusses the viewpoints of the ethical advice and of the European Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine: is the advice in agreement with the Convention and can the advice refine the guidelines of the Convention for the particular context of psychiatry? Although the Convention emphasises the autonomy of the individual patient, whereas the advice focuses on the relationships between the partners involved, the advice enjoys a complementary and supportive function in the application of the Convention.

  • coercion
  • decision making
  • informed consent
  • psychiatry

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  • Competing interests: None.