Fight To Be Free: Abolish Involuntary Commitment and Forced Psychiatric Treatment – A Submission to Committee on Rights for Persons with Disabilities/CRPD
by Don Weitz
Over 60 years ago, I was labeled “schizophrenic”, locked up and forcibly drugged 110 times with subcoma insulin shock in Mclean Hospital, a psychoprison (psychiatric hospital) near Boston, affiliated with Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital. Because I was going through an existential identity crisis – psuychiatrized as “mental illness” & “schizophrenia” – struggling to find out what I wanted to do or be with my life in college, my family colluded with the psychiatrists to “treat” and involuntarily committed me, locked me up without my consent. For 15 months, I lived on an all-male ward with 15- 20 other patients, some brain-damaged by electroshock and lobotomy, others intimidated and traumatized by “safe and effective” psychiatric drugs, all of us suffered the degradation and humiliation of being incarcerated, having our daily institutional lives totally controlled by shrinks. After I was “discharged” in 1953, I suffered frequent anxiety or panic attacks for the next few years while studying psychology in university and seeing other psychiatrists. At that time, patients had no legal or civil rights, including no right to appeal involuntary committal, I had no right to appeal or refuse insulin shock or any unwanted psychiatric treatment. I know something about what it feels like to be treated like a prisoner, what it’s like to lose your freedom without a hearing or trial – preventive detention which is what involuntary committal really is. I know what it’s like to be tortured in the coercive and inhumane psychiatric system where human rights are sanitized as ”privileges”. Violations of our human rights in the 1950s are still violated today. Human rights in psychiatry are a sham. (1).
Involuntary committal is a legal atrocity that must be abolished. It’s a very common and widespread legal psychiatric procedure enforced by psychiatrists, judges and police in virtually every country where psychiatry is legitimized by oppressive mental health laws and promoted by psychiatrically-biased government officials and the corporate media – the psychiatric police state. Involuntary committal laws authorize the incarceration or imprisonment of people in all psychiatric facilities and mental health centres, not just for days but also for weeks, months or years – particularly under the Ontario government’s “certificates of renewal.” (2,3) To be clear, involuntary committal is loss of freedom without a public hearing or trial and without charge of any civil or criminal offence. Although legal and enforced by many states and provinces, involuntary committal is actually preventive detention which is strictly prohibited under international human rights law; virtually all provincial and state mental health laws violate our human rights and international law, yet there’s little or no awareness, discussion and resistance re this grim fact.
In Ontario, the criteria for depriving a citizen of freedom are so ill-defined, vague and broad they can apply to virtually any person. Involuntary committal qualifies as a blatant violation of human rights or “patients’ rights” which are never mentioned in mental health legislation. Consider this wording of “involuntary admission” and initial 72-hour psychiatric assessment in Ontario’s Mental Health Act:
“Conditions for involuntary admission –
(a) that the patient is suffering from a mental disorder of a nature or quality that likely will result in,
(i) serious bodily harm to the patient,
(ii) serious bodily harm to another person, or
(iii) serious physical impairment of the patient,
or [will result] in substantial mental or physical deterioration
unless the patient remains in the custody of a psychiatric facility;…” (4)
Under the Act’s definitions, “mental disorder means any disease or disability of the mind.” This definition is a legal fiction, it’s nonsensical, illogical and unscientific; as an abstraction or theoretical construct the mind, as Szasz has pointed out, can not be diseased or disabled, only the body can be diseased. Further, this key definition obviously supports psychiatry’s unscientific and discredited biomedical medical of “mental illness” which is entrenched in all editions of the equally discredited Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), psychiatry’s bible of bogus and stigmatizing diagnostic labels. Further, the phrase “substantial mental or physical or deterioration” is dangerously imprecise and subjective, it allows any physician to lock up and label innocent citizens simply by signing certificates such as “Form 1” which authorizes an initial 72 hour period of observation and assessment”, frequently followed by “Form 2” which authorizes 2 weeks of involuntary commitment followed by “Form 3 which authorizes an additional 30 days and longer periods under a “certificate of renewal.” Also, the key term “ likely will result” is extremely misleading and problematic since it is common knowledge that psychiatrists can not validly and reliably predict harm, dangerousness or violence.
It’s bad enough that psychiatrists have so much power and that so many are incompetent while depriving thousands, if not millions of innocent people of freedom every day; however, they also have the power to forcibly treat or assault us – in the name of “mental health” of course. Although “informed consent” is a key medical-ethical concept and principle in medicine and has been since the historic Nuremberg Code of 1947, it’s frequently violated in psychiatry and the mental health system, another sham. Why7 Because psychiatrists and other physicians routinely ignore or violate its basic criteria. Consider these fundamental requirements of consent and informed consent to treatmeent clearly and concisely spelled out in Ontario’s Health Care Consent Act:
Elements of Consent
The following are the elements required for consent to treatment:
1.The consent must relate to treatment.
2.The consent must be informed.
3.The consent must be given voluntarily.
- The consent must not be given through misrepresentation or fraud.
1.The nature of the treatment.
2.The expected benefits of the treatment.
3.The material risks of the treatment.
4.The material side effects of the treatment.
5.Alternative courses of action.
6.The likely consequences of not having the treatment. (5)
Although some psychiatric survivors may have consented to psychiatric drugs (“medication”) and/or electroshock (“ECT”), virtually none has been fully informed of their major risks and alternatives. For many, such consent has been given involuntarily-by threat, staff pressure, intimidation, physical restraint or force. During the public hearings on electroshock in Toronto in April 2005, not one survivor recalled being informed about the major effects of “ECT” such as permanent memory loss, brain damage, and trauma; non-medical or community alternatives were never mentioned. Similar consent violations were recalled during survivor testimony on psychiatric drugs (”medication”). In other words, informed consent to psychiatric treatment is a myth, virtually nonexistent, particularly in psychiatric facilities. (6) Given many studies, common knowledge and personal testimony of violations of informed consent to treatment, we are talking about forced treatment, psychiatric assault. Psychiatrists and other doctors who fail to fully inform patients about any prescribed treatments and risks should be criminally charged with medical negligence and assault. At the same time, all psychiatric patients should be given basic and accurate information, written or in alternate formats they can easily access and understand, on informed consent; they should also be given opportunities to discuss any questions about informed consent, including the right to refuse any treatment, with a patient advocate or lawyer, and translator if requested.
Its time to start criminalizing and launching class-action lawsuits against forced psychiatric treatments and involuntary committal; it’s time to stop sanitizing these serious human rights violations and psychiatric crimes as “treatments.”
Enough talk. How about some real action for a change? It’s our freedom and lives that are at stake!
- D. Weitz. “Struggling Against Psychiatry’s Human Rights Violations: An Antipsychiatry Perspective”. Radical Psychology [online] vol.7, 2008, http://www.radicalpsychology.org/vol7-1/weitz2008.html.
For other major critiques of psychiatry, also see, T. Szasz. Psychiatry: The Science of Lies. Syracuse University Press, 2008; P. Breggin, Brain-Disabling Treatments in Psychiatry, NY:Springer Publishing Company, 2008; B. Burstow, Psychiatry and the Business of Madness: An Ethical and Epistemological Accounting, Palgrave Macmillan, 2015.
- D.Hiltz and A. Szigeti. A Guide to Consent & Capacity Law in Ontario. LexisNexis Canada Inc., 2006/2007.
- H. Savage and C. McKague. Mental Health Law in Canada. Toronto: Butterworths, 1988.
- Mental Health Act. R.S.O. 1990 S.20 (5). In Hiltz & Szigeti, p.295.
- Hiltz & Szigeti, p, 182.
- Coalition Against Psychiatric Assault. Inquiry Into Psychiatry, 2005. https://coalitionagainstpsychiatricassault.wordpress.com/events/past-events/inquiry-into-psychiatry-2005/
Don Weitz is a psychiatric survivor, antipsychiatry and social justice activist.
In the early 1950s, he was forcibly administered 110 insulin shocks while involuntarily committed and incarcerated for 15 months in Mclean Hospital. For over 30 years, he has been active in the antipsychiatry liberation movement. In 1977, he co-founded with Harvey “Alf” Jackson and Bob Carson the Ontario Mental Patients Association that soon changed its name to On Our Own. In 1980 with shock survivor and lawyer Carla McKague, he co-founded Phoenix Rising, the first survivor-controlled antipsychiatry magazine in Canada. A few years later in 1983, he was one of the founding members of the Ontario Committee to Stop Electroshock which was the first organization to organize public hearings on electroshock and lobbied the Toronto Board of Health and Ontario government to abolish “ECT” and has participated in nonviolent civil disobedience in Canada and the United States. In 2003 with Dr. Bonnie Burstow, Don co-founded the Coalition Against Psychiatric Assault (CAPA) which organized public hearings on psychiatric drugs and electroshock in 2005; CAPA has also organized several public rallies and demonstrations against shock including a Toronto protest as part of the International Day of Protest Against Electroshock on May 16, 2015. Since the late 1990s, Don has also been an outspoken critic of homelessness and advocate for affordable housing as a member of the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty. He lives in Toronto.