[Paleopsych] St. Petersburg Times: Soviet-Style Psychiatry Carries On Mistreating Mentally Healthy Citizens
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Tue Sep 21 15:13:32 UTC 2004
Soviet-Style Psychiatry Carries On Mistreating Mentally Healthy
[Thanks to Amara for finding this article.]
By Vladimir Kovalev It might seem like science fiction, but amendments
to a law on psychiatric assistance filed by a group of psychiatrists
at the end of last year could drag Russia back into the Soviet past
when people disapproved of by the authorities ended up in mental
institutions. Their "treatment" was designed to make sure that if they
were not already crazy then it would make them so.
"[Compulsory] treatment can begin after a psychiatrists' commission
decides on it; in emergencies it can be initiated by the doctor who
examined the patient," an amendment to one article says.
And this is not the most frightening example.
At the moment, only a court can institute compulsory treatment. If
that changes in the way the amendments propose, society could be faced
with people who have no mental illnesses at all being "treated" merely
because they are out of favor with someone, be it an angry neighbor or
If amendments filed by Moscow's Serbsky Mental Institute become law, a
patient could be detained in a mental hospital for 10 days without a
court order and treated punitively if he or she "is unable to perceive
reality, but is not handicapped." In other words, anybody taken from a
street on a broad daylight can be treated without their consent.
The State Duma rejected the draft amendments, but there is a danger
that in the current situation, when the authorities are trying to
control every segment of society, even worse amendments will appear.
It is not the law that needs reforming, but the mental institutions
According to human rights advocates little has changed in psychiatric
clinics since Soviet times, not even the attitude of staff to their
A report filed this year by Roman Chyorny, head of the Citizen's
Commission for Human Rights, suggests that in several cases St.
Petersburg mental institutions killed patients by destroying their
minds and sometimes through physical harm.
A chapter called "Fascism in Ward No. 6" tells of a boy admitted to
Skvortsova Stepanova Mental Hospital with simple concussion.
"The next day I saw my son in the hospital," said mother Anna
Solovyova. "He was sitting naked, absolutely soaking wet. He told me
they gave him large amounts of medication - 68 pills. His condition
was constantly getting worse. Ulcers appeared in his mouth. He
couldn't eat. He became so thin in the hospital that he started
looking like a skeleton ..."
Two months later, the boy was delivered to the Alexandrovskaya
Hospital in a critical condition. "Do you know why your son is dying?"
a doctor at that hospital asked the mother. "He's dying of bedsores.
Why did you allow him to get into such a state. Why didn't you
complain?" Solovyova said she trusted the doctors at Skvortsova
Stepanova. The reward for her trust was her son's eventual death.
And this is just one of several similar cases documented in the
report. One article described the St. Petersburg Human Brain Institute
of the Russian Academy of Science announcing in 1997 that it could
treat drug addiction by "a unique surgery." The "surgery" was to drill
a hole in the brain and fill in a section responsible for pleasure
with liquid nitrogen at a temperature of minus 70 degrees Celsius. As
a result, this part of the brain would be distorted.
According to the report, the institute offered this surgery at 135,000
rubles ($4,655) for Russians and $8,000 for foreigners. A total of 335
people took the treatment until in 2002 one of the patients filed a
suit against the institute. The court revealed that the operations
were performed without Health Ministry approval and were, in fact,
experiments on people.
At the end of 2002, the institute ceased to offer the operations after
a St. Petersburg Prosecutor's Office decision and recommendations by
the Health Ministry. But in autumn 2003, the operations were resumed,
with an announcement placed on the Human Brain Institute's official
web site http://www.ihb.spb.ru/index_1.html. It says the success rate
is 60 percent, but makes no mention of what happens to the other 40
percent of patients.
In human rights circles it is well known that many psychiatrists at
local mental institutions have not only kept their jobs after the
demise of the Soviet Union, even though they had persecuted
dissidents, but they are also still treating patients the same way
they did years ago. Their methods are known as karatelnaya meditsina
or punitive medicine.
"Soviet punitive psychiatry came through perestroika unscathed and
intact," the report quotes Memorial member Valentin Smirnov as saying.
"There is absolutely the same red professorship ... the same ignoble
methods of 'treating' citizens who are out of favor with the
authorities, and the same senseless cruelty."
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