Thursday, 22 May 2008

Smoking Madness

A travesty of justice seems to have taken place in the High Court, with the aptly named Lord Justice Pill's ruling on smoking in a mental hospital.

The BBC reports that "[High Court] judges have ruled psychiatric patients should not be allowed to smoke at a high security mental hospital." I've been following this story for a while, and was outraged to learn that patients at the high security Rampton hospital, in Nottinghamshire, were not allowed to smoke, despite being detained there.

They argued that the hospital's no-smoking policy, which prevents them from smoking at all, anywhere in the hospital, breaches their human rights because, in their case, the hospital is "their own home" and they should be allowed to smoke in the privacy of it. After all, inmates in the nation's jails are allowed to smoke, and the situation surely isn't all that different for patients detained in a high security mental institution.

Not so, according to Lord Justice Pill and Mr Justice Silber. In fairness, there are elements of their ruling that make a degree of sense; it was argued on behalf of the Trust that, unlike other secure hospitals, Rampton did not have secure facilities to allow inmates to smoke in the open air with a risk of them running away. That's a pretty weak argument, in my opinion, but it does, at least, make sense. The report makes no mention of why a secure room with adequate ventilation could not have been allocated for the purpose.

Further elements of the ruling are much less acceptable. Lord Justice Pill said: "There is very strong evidence that smoking causes disease and endangers the health of the smokers themselves and other people who live and work in their vicinity. There is, in our view, powerful evidence that, in the interests of public health, strict limitations upon smoking, and a complete ban in appropriate circumstances, are justified."

Or, to dumb it down a bit - we think it's bad for you, so we're not going to let you do it. Seldom have I seen a more blatantly discriminatory ruling; members of the public are - for the moment - entitled to choose whether they wish to smoke or not. Even criminals are allowed that choice. Yet individuals who are, by definition, ill, are denied the right to make that choice solely on the basis of their illness. It's just one more example of the way that society stigmatises and discriminates against mental health patients.

You can bet that Health Fascists within NHS Trusts around the country are even now scheming to deprive their mental health patients of yet another freedom on the strength of this ruling. It's a disgrace, and anyone who thinks it comes anywhere close to justice should keep taking the pills.

The rest of us might want to wonder how long it will be before the judgment is used to further victimise smokers who are, by any classical definition, perfectly sane. "LOOK," the Health Fascists will say. "The Court ruled that smoking is bad for you, and people around you. You WANT to smoke? You must be mad!" And before you know it, smokers will be off to the rubber room - for their own good, of course.

Billy Seggars.

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