The United Nations calls on countries to repeal their mental health laws that authorize involuntary commitment, and to ensure that mental health services are based on free and informed consent of the person concerned. Forced psychiatric drugging and electroshock – not only when done to political prisoners who are certified sane, but also as routinely practiced against people labeled with mental health diagnoses – can amount to torture.
These astounding developments have come about in a relatively short period of time, thanks to the influence of users and survivors of psychiatry on international law. We have developed ways of articulating and presenting our claims for justice that fit the human rights framework and found a receptive audience. Theories of justice based on non-discrimination and the social model of disability are having influence throughout the UN system, reflecting the evolution of human rights law.
Significantly for people in the United States, there are UN mechanisms we can use right now to advocate against forced psychiatry. Recently, the expert committee that monitors the Convention Against Torture issued concluding observations to the Czech Republic that included recommendations to ensure free and informed consent in mental health services. They are following the example of the Special Rapporteur on Torture, whose 2008 report to the General Assembly said that intrusive and irreversible medical treatments aimed at correcting or alleviating a disability, including psychiatric drugging and electroshock, could amount to torture or ill treatment if enforced or administered without the free and informed consent of the person concerned.
Our sisters and brothers in Czech Republic with support of the European Network of (ex-) Users and Survivors of Psychiatry advocated to the Committee Against Torture in a written submission and by going in person to speak with the committee in Geneva. They were particularly motivated to stop the use of cage-beds, an extreme form of restraint that led to a woman’s suicide, but did not stop there. Understanding that cage-beds are the tip of the iceberg, ENUSP emphasized that all forced drugging, restraint and coercion of any kind had to be abolished.
The United States is a party to the Convention Against Torture, and its report is due to be submitted shortly. That means we have an opportunity to do some advocacy and potentially obtain similar recommendations. There is a growing movement in the United States to hold our own country accountable to international human rights standards including the recommendations made by treaty monitoring committees. This could be the first time that the psychiatric survivor movement might get recommendations we can use.
Please visit www.chrusp.org for more information and watch this space for news, updates and further analysis. You are welcome to suggest questions or topics on human rights for me to comment on. I can’t promise to take up every suggestion but will consider them.
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.