Ethical Theory and Moral Practice

, Volume 16, Issue 4, pp 829–843 | Cite as

Is There a Right to Hold a Delusion? Delusions as a Challenge for Human Rights Discussion

  • Mari Stenlund


The analysis presented in this article reveals an ambiguity and tension in human rights theory concerning the delusional person’s freedom of belief and thought. Firstly, it would appear that the concepts ‘opinion’ and ‘thought’ are defined in human rights discussion in such a way that they do include delusions. Secondly, the internal freedom to hold opinions and thoughts is defined in human rights discussion and international human rights covenants as an absolute human right which should not be restricted in any situation for any reason. These views, if understood literally, imply that a person has an absolute right to hold a delusion. However, this kind of conclusion has not been made in mental health laws, the ethical principles guiding psychiatric care or the practice of psychiatry. Instead, they assume that the use of involuntary antipsychotic medication is justified even thought its purpose is to influence delusions. The ambiguity and tension in human rights theory concerning the freedom of belief and thought challenge us to develop this theory within an interdisciplinary discussion so that people with delusions are taken into account properly.


Freedom of opinion Freedom of thought Delusions Psychosis Antipsychotic medication 



I’m grateful to professor Jaana Hallamaa and assistant professor Ville Päivänsalo for their comments and suggestions. I am also grateful to the reviewers for bringing various important points to my attention.

Conflict of Interests Declaration

I have no conflicts of interests.

Funding Statement

This work was supported by the Alfred Kordelin Foundation.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Systematic Theology, Faculty of TheologyUniversity of HelsinkiHelsinkiFinland

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