This is Day 15 of our 30-day blog on the Declaration of Principles adopted by the 10th Annual Conference on Human Rights and Psychiatric Oppression held in Toronto, May 14-18, 1982. (More info here.) Today we are talking about Principle 15.
Principle 15 reads in full as follows:
We oppose the psychiatric system because it is frighteningly similar to the inquisition, chattel slavery and the Nazi concentration camps.
The 'inquisition', 'chattel slavery', 'Nazi camps'. This is how service users rate the experience of institutional psychiatry.
This is hardly a thing of the past. Here are recent first-hand accounts (documentary clip) from the Devoiced: Human Rights Now! project by Lauren Tenney.
To understand more about the how and why of it, here's a paper from Tina Minkowitz, founder of the Center for the Human Rights of Users and Survivors of Psychiatry. The paper deals with Article 11 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (Freedom from Torture). But, as you can see, the parallels are to tortures past (Inquisition, slavery, Nazi camps) are legion and timeless:
Article 11 – Freedom from Torture
Forced Interventions Meet International Definition of Torture Standards
Forced interventions on people with disabilities, which are aimed at preventing, correcting, improving or alleviating any actual or perceived impairment, meet the elements of the definition of torture under international law.
The Convention Against Torture defines torture as an intentional act that inflicts severe pain or suffering on the victim, done for one of a number of purposes. The required intent is not a specific intent to cause the victim to experience pain or suffering, but a general intent to perform the act knowing that severe pain or suffering is likely to result.
Torture usually requires the participation of a public official, but failure to provide redress or protection from acts of private violence which would otherwise qualify as torture may also violate this norm. Forced interventions are often performed by public officials or pursuant to authority delegated by law; meaningful redress and protection are virtually unheard of.
Doctors, traditional healers and others who may perform forced interventions know that severe pain or suffering is likely to result. The victim’s resistance, refusal to consent, or expression of fear, anger or despair in response to the proposed intervention convey the information that it is unwelcome. Furthermore, the contexts in which forced interventions are performed reflect a systemic imbalance of power, often including deprivation of liberty, routine violations of human rights and dignity, and dehumanization of human beings as medical objects based on disability. Perpetrators reveal a profound indifference to the effects of such interventions on people with disabilities, even when it is commonly accepted that similar interventions on non-disabled people would cause severe pain and suffering. This indifference demonstrates that forced interventions are carried out with the requisite knowledge and intent.
Forced interventions cause severe pain and suffering to disabled people. These interventions are rationalized as attempts to prevent, correct, improve or alleviate an impairment, without appreciating that impairment is a value-laden concept meaning deficiency, lack or absence. People with disabilities experience ourselves as whole human beings and any attempt to alter us against our will attacks our sense of identity as well as mental and bodily integrity. The experience often results in lifelong trauma as well as additional disability.
Purposes of torture include obtaining information or a confession, intimidation, coercion, punishment, or any reason based on discrimination of any kind.
Discrimination is always a factor in forced interventions. Encouragement or coercion to make us more closely resemble non-disabled people perpetuates a hierarchical classification of human beings according to disability, contrary to the principle of “acceptance of disability as part of human diversity and humanity” and the right to be different as expressed in the UNESCO Declaration on Race and Racial Prejudice. Furthermore, often interventions used on disabled people do not make us non-disabled; they make us differently disabled and may create additional impairments; such interventions do nothing to address the social and environmental dimension of disability. The pain, suffering and diminishing of existing capacities inherent in many interventions used against disabled people reflects the discomfort of non-disabled people when faced with non-conforming body types, sensory abilities, self-expression and behavior, and a willingness to sacrifice people with disabilities in the name of saving us from ourselves.
Coercion is a factor in forced interventions, not only in that they are by definition coercive, but also in the attempt to undermine our identity and cause us to accept subordination to authorities which are purported to have expert knowledge of our condition. A person’s body and mind are integral to identity and every human being has the right to have his or her physical and mental being, no less than other aspects of identity such as religion and political beliefs, protected from interference. Furthermore, forced intervention is also used in directly coercive ways, as when behavior is attributed to a disability and interventions are used to prevent the behavior, either by being used as a deterrent to the undesired behavior, or by diminishing the person’s physical or mental capacities to carry out the undesired behavior.
Punishment is a factor in forced interventions, since in institutions or other situations of power imbalance, interventions that assault a person’s identity and mental and bodily integrity are a convenient method of punishment. The threat of forced interventions is also used to intimidate people with disabilities into complying with demands of people in positions of authority, including the demand to comply with interventions on a voluntary basis.
The Inter-American Convention to Prevent and Punish Torture clarifies the international definition by presenting a variation: measures intended to obliterate the personality or diminish the physical or mental capacities of the victim, whether or not such measures cause pain or suffering. Commentators believe that such measures are implicit in the prohibition of torture in the UN Convention Against Torture, since such measures may not cause immediate pain or suffering but cause psychological or physical damage that can become evident in the long term.
As already discussed, forced interventions on people with disabilities are often designed to diminish the person’s mental or physical capacities, and to change important aspects of the person’s identity. Some egregious interventions are intended to obliterate the personality. This provision from the Inter-American Convention is widely understood to refer particularly to use of mind-altering substances and procedures, which is one of the most predominant types of forced interventions.
The above exposition shows that forced interventions satisfy the elements of the international definition of torture. Since the aim of the norm against torture is to prevent and protect against all instances of torture, and since protection of minority groups is explicitly encouraged by incorporating discrimination into the definition of torture, international instruments and jurisprudence should address forced interventions on people with disabilities as a matter of utmost concern.
Institutional psychiatry is an extension of law: institutional psychiatrists are agents of the state, not of their patients. Doctors who practise contractual medicine are agents of their patients, not of the state. The importance of this difference cannot be overemphasised.
People labelled by institutional psychiatrists as mentally ill are concurrently defined by the courts as less than human, in much the same way ‘Negroes’ in America were once defined as three-fifths persons. This is how Black people were, and people with mental illnesses are, deprived of liberty and justice by the state. Labelling of anyone as less than human is legal fiction, something false that is asserted as true, that the courts will not allow to be disproved. Just as defining Negroes as three-fifths persons served to maintain the institution of slavery, defining people as mentally ill serves to maintain the institution of psychiatry.
A person has a right to refuse treatment for cancer. A person does not have a right to refuse treatment for mental illness. If institutional psychiatrists are deprived of their power by the state to deprive mentally ill persons of their liberty, that is, if the state did not allow psychiatrists to enslave their patients in the name of liberating them, institutional psychiatry would go the way of slavery, as well it should.
Just goes to show how far you can get with a white coat, Pharma dollars and toxic levels of prejudice. Still, I am wondering what might happen if our community started 'Yelping' our ER, inpatient, Pharma and shock experiences on the internet consumer/ user reviews sites ...?
It's not as far-fetched as it seems. About a year ago, the Medicated & Mighty crowd crashed out in favor of treatment, making compliance look all but 'sexy.' With relative anonymity, and using established mechanisms, we could start posting our own set of honest reviews of the businesses in question. Plus, there's nothing like the unifying wrath of customer dissatisfaction to ignite a bit of energy and shared passion. There's also nothing like the unity of born of common commercial spurning to rekindle the fierce shared loyalties of good old-fashioned peer support.
Questions for Reflection
We are building this work together. Your lived experience is needed and valued. It is essential to building our shared knowledge and expertise as a movement. Please comment on any or all of these questions or in any way that speaks to you personally.
1. Have you ever experienced forced psychiatry? If so, what comparisons did you draw the inquisition, slavery or Nazi camps?
3. What would you like others of conscience to know about your experience?
4. What, in your experience, allows torture to happen in the name of treatment?
5. What social and systemic factors enable it to continue?
6. If we were serious about honoring human rights, how would you recommend we go about this?
7. Who would need to be involved and how?
8. What changes would you make and why?
9. Some people think the current system is the only way to meet certain needs. What would you say to them? How could human rights be respected and still address other important social needs?
August 15, 2016: Conference on Principle 15
We will talk about Principle 15, including your responses, on August 15 from 9-11 PM EST. The conference will convene on BlogTalkRadio.com/TalkWithTenney.
By Phone: (1)267-521-0167
By Internet: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/talkwithtenney
We welcome your participation. Simply press #1 on your phone to speak with the show hosts.
More details are available at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/talkwithtenney
Those wishing to continue the discussion after the conference – or to talk informally with others who participated – may join us for the Post-Conference reception. The reception will start immediately after the conference (11 PM EST) and continue til the wee hours or for as long as there is interest.
By phone: (1)331-205-7196 (dial *67 for added privacy)
By internet: Uberconference.com/peerlyhuman
International: Local access numbers available at Uberconference.com/international