n Stellenbosch Law Review = Stellenbosch Regstydskrif - The development of the interface between law, medicine and psychiatry : medical and psychiatric malpractice in South Africa

Volume 21, Issue 2
  • ISSN : 1016-4359
  • E-ISSN: 1996-2193



Persons suffering from mental disorders in South Africa were among the most stigmatised, discriminated against, marginalised, disadvantaged and vulnerable members of society. Although much has been done in recent years to improve the status quo, it is evident that a great deal more needs to be done to improve the moral standing of and to achieve social justice for the patient with a mental disorder. It is only a few decades ago that South Africans were living and working in an oppressive and discriminatory system. Of all the medical specialisations, psychiatry (the most influenced by the prevailing social and political climate) was the most criticised by the international community. One of the central factors that contributed to these conditions is the failure of our society to recognise the rights of individuals with mental disorders as equal to those of able-bodied persons. However, with the advent of democracy in South Africa, the authority of the Constitution and Constitutional Court, the introduction of the Bill of Rights, the establishment of the Human Rights Commission and the enactment of the Mental Health Care Act an infrastructure has been created in South Africa. This infrastructure addresses past inequalities and attempts to ensure that the rights of all people, including patients with mental disorders, are protected. Until recently, lawsuits against psychiatrists were virtually unheard of. However, the traditional reluctance to litigate has crumbled, although not to its full potential in South Africa. Globally, there has been a steady rise in malpractice litigation against psychiatrists since the late 1960s. This article examines the development of law, medicine and psychiatry in South Africa and the progress made regarding medical and psychiatric malpractice.

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