Should Children Have Consent Rights For Psychosurgery, ECT and Sterilization?

Michael Cornwall, PhD
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“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.

28 COMMENTS

  1. I often think that some psychiatrists as well as politicians need their head examined. Once in power some people become unable to use their common-sense and get stuck in a one-way thinking mode: they develop tunnel-vision. Also, the more changes they introduce to improve things, the worse things get and the more oppressive society becomes.

  2. I have a real problem with the fact that this whole issue is being taken up as a parents rights one. And this is very much what I see you doing. The laws regarding sterialisation are very very clear, NO PARENT or ANYONE for that matter can consent to the sterialisation of a child. The LAW requires a COURT ORDER for that purpose. It does not matter how profoundly disabled the child is, no one has the right to permanently sterialise them. These laws are there for very good reason. There are thousands of ways of acquiring birth control, thousands of ways of dealing with menstruation and the like and they do not require sterialisation. Sterialisation in and of itself can cause life long physical problems for females. It is not a simple and harmless operation. NO ONE has a right to forcibly sterialise anyone at all. Why do people believe that parents should have the right to do those things. Since when would any half decent parent choose to sterialise there child. Why would any parent consent to psychosurgery on there child?? NO real parent would do that, plenty of abusive ones would.

    I am not for one second saying that children should be consenting to these things, what I am saying is that parents should not be consenting to them either, and there are bloody good reasons for that. There are MANY doctors who have problems with our current sterialisation laws and it is well known that these things are happening under the carpet. The chid goes in to have there tonsils out and while there they sterilise them as well.

    The simple fact is that the WHOLE concept of sterialisation in mental health laws is absurb. Such a practice has no role at all for psychiatrists. They should not be above the law. If a legally competent adult decides they want to seek sterialisation of themselves they can legally go and seek that treatment from a suitably qualified medical professional. Having a mental illness does not and should not change that. If they want a psychiatrist to veto EVERY sterialisation of EVERYONE then fine, but why have it only for those labelled as mentally ill. The simple fact is that if someone is so profoundly mentally ill as to require intensive mental health treatment they are sure as hell not competent to be deciding on sterialisation. If and when they are competent to seek it out on there own accord they can have it the same as anyone else. It has no role at all for children. If in cases of medical need and/or profound disability a court decides it is necessary then so be it, but that is not a decision for a psychiatrist to make it is a decision that very rightly belongs in a court of law.

    Psychosurgery should be outlawed for EVERYONE, especially children. I struggle to see how someone can be so profoundly mentally ill to have exhausted ALL other treatment options and yet supposedly be competent to give informed consent to psychosurgery. The simple fact is the law requires ALL other treatment options to have been exhausted first. NO ONE who is that unwell, child or adult could consent to such a treatment. Again why is this a decision that parents should be allowed to make. You are proposing to permanently remove a part of a child’s brain for NO medical reason at all as there is no evidence at all that these things are brain diseases. Parents have no role in this. No one has any role in this. If they insist on keeping it in place, then a REAL court of law, not a mental health kangaroo tribunal, that rubber stamps everything should be the one making the decision and that is for EVERYONE.

    While I agree that parents should be entitled to make many health care decisions about there child, they do not own children. There are MANY things that parents are not allowed to consent to and which require a court order, and that is to ensure that things are not being done for children for no reason. Not all parents have there child’s best interest at heart. If they did we would not need child protection. And don’t try and say if only we supported the parents. I was bought up in a pedophile ring and no amount of family support was going to make them consider my needs. NO HUMAN being has sex with a child and parenting classes and hose cleaners are not going to stop someone from sexually abusing there child. Parents have the privillage of raising there children, and making most deicsions for them, providing they can do so in a responsible fashion. Of course one also only has to think that any reasonable parent would never consent to such things and it is only those that feel threatened by mental health professionals that would consent to it. How do parents consent to ECT on 3 year olds, simple they are treatened and/or lied to about it, if they do not. How can they make an informed decision, they can’t.

  3. Thank you for your powerful comment Belinda. I don’t believe anyone, child or adult should be subjected to ECT or psychosurgery whether they consent to it or not. If adult males choose to have vasectomies to not be fertile or adult females choose to have hysterectomies then their rights are not being violated. Forced sterilization of adults as was done to 40,000 people in the US is a human rights violation. The sterilization of minors should not happen by consent or force.

  4. A 12 year old not having enough insite and needing parental consent. I doubt it. I was FORCED to have a hystorecomy when I was 12 by my parents consenting for me. WHY?? I had become pregnant at the age of 11 with my fathers child. After they aborted that, they sterialised me. Much easier to keep raping me after that. I can assure you I had a hell of a lot more insite than anyone would have given me. These decisions do not and will not EVER belong in the hands of parents. No ethical parent would ever consent, so why should they have such rights?? How could ANYONE claim that I had no ability to make such a decision at that age?? I don’t believe I should have been allowed to make it, but if it is to be done, it MUST be the individual’s decisions ALONE and not with parental pressure.

  5. This is not about “healing” children. It is all about power over people. Too many psychiatrists feel that they are the ultimate authority about everything concerning the lives of those who experience mental anguish, and this is especially true of the biopsychiatrists. They are so intent on making their category of medicine “legitimate” that they will do anything and everything to promote psychiatry. It is difficult for me to believe that any good and loving parent would even allow the giving of these toxic, supposedly antipsychotic, drugs to their children, let alone allow them to be brutally assaulted by means of psychosurgery and ECT. However, I see it being allowed each and every day in my own community by supposedly loving parents. How did we ever come to this? It is frightening and disgusting.

  6. Yes Stephen. Psychiatrist know they can persuade children to do what they want and they don’t want parents in the way of that. This is what it is about. Perhaps they want to be able to recruit more children into their trials so they can make a name for themselves.

  7. John,

    That is just not going to happen as much as I despise what most of psychiatry stands for and the abuses they have committed. And I don’t know about the UK where you are but in the US, psychiatry has seemed into mainstream medicine unfortunately. So even if banning were to occur, that would not solve our problems in my opinion.

    Additionally, I admit this rarely happens but I know of a few people who get great care from a neuropsychiatrist who understood psych med withdrawal symptoms when all the other types of professionals they had consulted, including alternative folks, were clueless.

    Additionally, on another board I frequent, it was a psychiatrist who pointed someone to great doctors after this person was getting royally screwed by the current medical team.

    After dealing with so many gray issues regarding my health problems that I had previously seen as black and white, I am not comfortable with the position that psychiatry needs to be banned in spite of my extreme negative feelings towards the profession.

  8. It’s ironic that Australia has made interpretive declarations on the CRPD saying that they don’t agree with abolishing substitute decision-making or abolishing forced psychiatric treatment – i.e. they don’t want even adults who are labeled with psychiatric diagnoses to have the right to make decisions for themselves or to refuse treatment.

    I agree with your premise that this is about manipulation of children but let’s not forget that children are made powerless by not having the right to refuse when their parents put them into psychiatry – parents are manipulated too.

    Children should certainly have the right to refuse on their own. I suggest that psychiatric treatments – including neurotransmitter drugs – should be seen as an intrusive treatment because of the effects on the mind and brain and personality as well as danger to overall health. I’d rather see no such treatments on children at all, and to ban them entirely below a certain age.