“Madness!” was the vehement one word response from my friend when I told her that the Mental Health Minister of Western Australia has proposed legislation to allow children as young as twelve years old to have consent rights to receive psychosurgery, electroconvulsive therapy and/or permanent sterilization if they are deemed “sufficiently mature” by a Psychiatrist. Parental consent would not be required under the proposed legislation.
One of Australia’s leading newspapers, The Australian, ran the disturbing story about the proposed legislation last month, citing one child and adolescent mental health expert calling the proposed law “bizarre” and “absurd.” Australia has also been in the international spotlight recently for having allowed electroconvulsive therapy on three-year- old toddlers.
I have always believed that such extreme treatment practices as are being covered in the proposed legislation are the inevitable bitter fruits of the medical model paradigm of human emotional suffering and madness.
Lobotomy, insulin shock therapy, forced and voluntary sterilization, forced ECT and use of powerful stimulant and antipsychotic medications and ECT being prescribed to children — all of these treatments flow from the underlying belief system that human emotional suffering and madness are caused by very serious genetically based neurobiological disorders that are best treated by medical practitioners.
Once the belief is held by physicians that a 3-year-old toddler’s brain is not functioning properly due to a neurobiological brain disorder, then under that paradigm, it is intellectually consistent and logical that antipsychotic medication or ECT may be considered as an effective and necessary treatment. Sometimes children 2 years old have been diagnosed bipolar and given antipsychotic medication for temper tantrums based on the same reasoning.
Returning now to the proposed Australian legislation. Why is there a compelling need to make it legal for twelve-year old-children to have sole consent rights if a psychiatrist deems them sufficiently mature, to receive psychosurgery that permanently impacts their brain, permanent sterilization or electroconvulsive therapy? Why would mental health providers want parents to be legally denied veto power over such treatments?
I have the image in my mind’s eye of a well meaning psychiatrist explaining and recommending such treatments to a hospitalized twelve-year-old boy or girl and asking them to sign a consent form, telling the child that their parents do not need to agree with what the child decides. Is it possible for any twelve-year-old child to be sufficiently mature to agree to such treatments? Are they capable of realizing the life long effects they will have? Surely common sense tells us no.
Common sense. Heart sense. Has the dispassionate and sometimes sterile light of scientific reason that informs medicine today lost touch with our human hearted wisdom?
These are our precious children we are experimenting on for God’s sake.
Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.