Posts tagged ‘Disability’

UN Official Calls Rotenberg’s Treatment ‘Torture’

Matthew Israel, founder (Photo by Larry Sultan)

Finally — someone in a position to do something is calling Judge Rotenberg Center’s discipline-by-electric-shock methods torture. You may remember a couple of previous posts (here and here) about JRC’s electrically shocking children, many with special needs, in addition to aggressive use of restraints, withholding food and just general abuse and bullying labeled care. These are not exceptions or anomalies but the very approach the school is built upon. They are using pain and fear to alter children’s behavior and they are doing so openly — even as a selling point — and sadly, there is a public buying. Parents that would almost certainly never take a job in an office that shocks them to keep up production and compliance are packing their kids up and dropping them off for this. Some  of these children have psychiatric diagnoses and behavioral  issues, others developmental disabilities including autism.

From the Patriot-Ledger:

A top United Nations official has described as torture the shock treatments used by the Judge Rotenberg Center on some of its special needs students. Manfred Nowak, the Austrian lawyer who is the U.N.’s special rapporteur on torture, in May asked the federal government to investigate the use of electric shocks at the school in Canton.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Justice Department opened an investigation into whether the center violates federal disability laws by disciplining and controlling students with electric shock therapy.

“I have no doubts about it,” replied Nowak when asked if the practice is torture in an interview broadcast on ABC-TV’s “Nightline” this week.

Nowak sought the investigation after reviewing a report critical of the center by Mental Disabilities Rights International, a human rights organization.

Thanks in part to ABC’s Nightline who featured JRC story (which I missed), A wider public is aware of what’s happening under our noses — and worse, that it’s been happening for decades. Is that enough? I would hope that we are collectively disturbed enough by what’s going on to insist upon an end to it but the public doesn’t get too bent out of shape  unless it’s their own pristinely “normal” children at the receiving end of the abuse. I would love to be wrong about that.

There is no question. This is torture. This is an abuse of human rights. The fact that it is done in a school setting or under the pretense of “therapy” or to troubled and troubling kids is irrelevant if not even more damning and it shouldn’t take 39 years, the network news and the UN’s special rapporteur on torture to tell us that.

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You can contact Massachusetts governor, Deval Patrick HERE. Find out what he thinks, in the face of another election, of his governing over the only state in the nation to allow a facility like this to exist and thrive — and get the attention of the UN’s special rapporteur on torture. After all, people are shipping their kids up from other states with enough sense to ban such treatment. More importantly, tell him what you think of the torture of children and the disabled being carried out in Massachusetts. Demand change.


July 3, 2010 at 11:46 am

Kings County: A Call to Action

You may have heard — you should have heard — of a woman named Esmin Green. She was involuntarily admitted to the psychiatric emergency room of Kings County Hospital, a place already known for a long record of violence, sexual assault, abuses and neglect. Unfortunately for Ms. Green and countless others, when you are someone who is allowed be shoved into places against your will, you have no say about which places and what standards, if any, are upheld there. Esmin died face down on the floor of the psych ER after being neglected for more than 24 hours.

As a telling video of the staff’s complete and ultimately fatal disregard for her was released, they had little choice but to go into public relations overdrive. They agreed to make all kinds of policy changes and rules about accountability as if adhering to policy and truthfully recording their actions was something they were good at. Knowing that if you throw money at a problem people read it as care, they also built a $153 million replacement for the notorious G building where all of these abuses were happening. Not surprisingly, the horrors continue — even under federal monitoring. Kings County’s Building R is little more than a multi-million dollar snake pit.

Last year, I attended a vigil in Esmin’s memory and a protest of the hospital’s neglect and continued abuses against people labeled mentally ill. It was organized by We The People and was as successful as we might have hoped, though the work is not done. Survivors of psychiatric abuses had an opportunity to speak out — and what some of these survivors had to say is not to be missed. I heard from several people that have helped inform and shape my approach toward activism and human rights.

This year, two years after her death, We The People will not let it drop as the problem clearly continues and I intend to stand with them in protest of a place that, for all their talk and money, is clearly beyond reform. We need to stand in solidarity with those behind locked doors and let the ones with the keys know we’re watching. Come out June 18th – 19th and demand justice, choice and human rights in mental health, voice your disapproval of the current standard of care and show them that there is a growing opposition in the public. Human rights are universal and a diagnosis cannot be allowed to erode that or even worse — invite abuse. When we look back in the light of hindsight at an era that saw basic human and civil rights denied people labeled ill and how many times we’ve collectively turned a blind eye to staggering amounts of abuse, we will look back in disgust. At least I’ll know which side I was on.

See below fliers for details and feel free to copy, repost and display them in support of the event.

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May 22, 2010 at 9:51 am

MDRI Releases Report on Rotenberg Center

Mental Disability Rights International (MDRI) whose simple slogan is “Disability rights are human rights” has issued a report on the abuses at Judge Rotenberg Center calling on the Special Rapporteur, The Obama Administration and the Department of justice in their effort to put a stop to the establishment’s longstanding abuses against children and adults in their alleged “care”.

You may remember my posting about JRC in the past. The abuses that occur there are astounding and I and many others are left wondering how such abuses can carry on without any outside interference from the governing bodies that are supposed to protect all of our citizens — certainly those among us most vulnerable to mistreatment. In its report MDRI rightfully calls this mistreatment nothing short of torture.

From MDRI’s front page:

Washington, DC – April 29, 2010 – Mental Disability Rights International (MDRI) has found children and adults with disabilities tortured and abused at a “special needs” residential facility in Massachusetts and has filed an “urgent appeal” with the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture to demand the United States government end the torture immediately.
MDRI’s latest report, Torture not Treatment: Electric Shock and Long-Term Restraint in the United States on Children and Adults with Disabilities at the Judge Rotenberg Center (JRC),documents the use of electric shocks on the legs, arms, torsos and soles of feet of people with disabilities – for weeks, months and sometimes years. JRC uses punishments as treatment and US advocates have been trying for decades to close the school and end these practices. The school also uses 4-point restraint boards, tying children to the boards while simultaneously shocking them for hours; mock assaults; food deprivation; shock chairs; isolation and long-term restraint. Residents at JRC are diagnosed with a variety of behavioral, intellectual and psychiatric disabilities such as autism, bi-polar disorder and learning disabilities.
Laurie Ahern, President of MDRI and author of the report, states, “The cruelty perpetrated against children and adults at JRC is psychological and physical abuse, couched in the name of ‘treatment.’ The severe pain and suffering leveled against residents there violates the United Nations Convention against Torture. And to the best of our knowledge, JRC is the only facility of any kind in the US – and perhaps the world –that uses electricity combined with long-term restraint and other punishments to intentionally cause pain to children with behavioral challenges and calls it treatment.”
MDRI calls on the Special Rapporteur, along with the Obama Administration and the Department of Justice, to end the abuses against people with disabilities at JRC. MDRI is an international human rights and advocacy organization dedicated to the rights protection and full participation in society of people with disabilities worldwide. Help us put an end to the torture of children with disabilities in JRC.

I sincerely hope this report and urgent appeal are not falling on deaf ears. MDRI presents a clear opportunity for the system to take a stand on institutional abuse and torture under the pretense of care. We need to stop drawing lines across which we’re willing to allow these things to happen. No perceived mental illness or disability can be allowed to take away our basic human rights. This is their chance to show us that human rights are universal. If they can’t do that, what are they good for?

May 3, 2010 at 10:30 am 1 comment

Saving Normal?

A recent opinion piece by Allen Frances for the LA Times is plainly pointing out the dangers of the new DSM’s broad strokes and the potential to paint too many “normal” people as mentally ill. It’s notable enough that mainstream press is presenting any criticism at all about psychiatry in general and the DSM in particular but Allen Frances was one of their own and no silent partner or low level underling either. He was the chairman of the committee that created the DSM-IV.

Our panel tried hard to be conservative and careful but inadvertently contributed to three false “epidemics” — attention deficit disorder, autism and childhood bipolar disorder. Clearly, our net was cast too wide and captured many “patients” who might have been far better off never entering the mental health system.

The first draft of the next edition of the DSM, posted for comment with much fanfare last month, is filled with suggestions that would multiply our mistakes and extend the reach of psychiatry dramatically deeper into the ever-shrinking domain of the normal. This wholesale medical imperialization of normality could potentially create tens of millions of innocent bystanders who would be mislabeled as having a mental disorder. The pharmaceutical industry would have a field day — despite the lack of solid evidence of any effective treatments for these newly proposed diagnoses.

Where the DSM-versus-normality boundary is drawn also influences insurance coverage, eligibility for disability and services, and legal status — to say nothing of stigma and the individual’s sense of personal control and responsibility.

It’s interesting to see someone in psychiatry addressing the notion of false epidemics of mental disorder when a committee decision and ever changing public opinion are all that separate a “real” epidemic from a false one. That said, committee decisions and public opinion have proven quite powerful and if you look back, the release of each DSM has brought on a rash of newly mentally ill. If history proves a good indicator, there will be millions of people who are normal today and mentally ill in 2013 — all thanks to a book with the power to categorize and medicalize the human condition. How much sorrow is too much? How excited can you be about everyday things before you are manic? And now with the proposed introduction of psychotic risk syndrome, anyone who isn’t deemed mentally ill can be subject to the book’s reach simply out of fear that they may be in time.

What are some of the most egregious invasions of normality suggested for DSM-V? “Binge eating disorder” is defined as one eating binge per week for three months. (Full disclosure: I, along with more than 6% of the population, would qualify.) “Minor neurocognitive disorder” would capture many people with no more than the expected memory problems of aging. Grieving after the loss of a loved one could frequently be misread as “major depression.” “Mixed anxiety depression” is defined by commonplace symptoms difficult to distinguish from the emotional pains of everyday life.

The media seldom addresses views critical of psychiatry but for psychiatrists to come out against the new proposals in such a public way is truly indicative of what’s at stake with the new DSM. You can bet that if psychiatrists are picking sides on this, it carries huge implications worth looking at. It doesn’t take much to see the power inherent in handing over our culture’s ability to define “normal” to a small committee comprised exclusively of people with something to gain and Frances is not exaggerating when he calls it “wholesale medical imperialization.” How much control are we willing to hand over? How far are we willing to let anyone go in defining us? How widely cast will the net be before it captures you? This is not an issue of special interest only to those marked as seriously mentally ill. Every label of mental illness is serious and with an ever broadening range of perceived illness encroaching upon a shrinking concept of normal, you may not be off the hook. Frances’ article says that it may not be too late to save ‘normal’ but I question whether ‘normal’ is worth saving.

See also: Allen Frances’ Opening Pandora’s Box: The 19 Worst suggestions for DSM5 in Psychiatric Times.

March 4, 2010 at 10:24 am 3 comments

Sexual Assault By Kings County Employee

I was jarred awake with disgust this morning as I sat down to my computer though I learned long ago never to be shocked or surprised. Larry J. Taylor, an employee of the notorious psychiatric unit at Kings County Hospital Center, was arrested yesterday for the rape of a developmentally disabled, deaf and mute man in the shower. Taylor faces two felony charges, a first-degree criminal sex act and third-degree sexual abuse. This just a month after the hospital agreed to federal monitoring for its systemic failure, abuse and neglect. From the Gothamist’s article on the assault:

Last year, the Justice Department released the findings of a year-long investigation of the East Flatbush medical center’s psychiatric unit, which revealed a lengthy record of violence and sexual assault. That study included reports of forced sex acts, brawls that left patients needing surgery, and staffers administering simultaneous injections of medications despite the possibility of overdoses.

What can I possibly say to that? In the midst of their being investigated for all manner of egregious failures, Esmin Green died on their waiting room floor after being ignored for more than 24 hours. In response to the public outrage, they built a $153 million replacement for the notorious G Building, had a few meetings and agreed to clean up their act and accept outside monitoring. It doesn’t look like any of that has had an effect on the staff whose long list of crimes, indiscretions and abuses continue. Sure — terrible and ugly things happen everywhere but at Kings County it’s systemic and they’ve gotten very comfortable with the way they do things. It is the snake pit you thought went away in the fifties.

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Links:

NY Times NY Daily News and the Gothamist report on the incident.

New York Civil Liberties Union‘s summary of Kings County Hospital with link to the original lawsuit 2007 and the findings of the Department of Justice.

My previous posts about Kings County — here and here.

February 26, 2010 at 11:51 am 4 comments

Temple Grandin Speaks at TED

I watched this on Beyond Meds, a great blog and the product of a very valuable mind. Go there, catch up on the archives and check back often. It is a video of a speaking engagement at TED by Temple Grandin on valuing the diversity of minds and the real-world  usefulness of different types of thinkers. Grandin, diagnosed as autistic, has used her fixations and visual thinking in a great number of ways and her approach has lead to many children’s gifts being fostered instead of shrugged off as deviations. I had seen her on television years ago and not  heard anything since. It appears she’s been quite busy. Thank you, Gianna for posting this.

While I don’t think most would place me on the autism spectrum, I can relate to certain traits and perhaps more importantly to learning and thinking in a way that was not valued in my school years (for what it’s worth, I was labeled an ADD kid later into my schooling). There will always be a larger spectrum of human thought and experience and I will always wonder what things might have been like if there were a way for me to learn with my natural tendencies instead of in opposition to them. I am blessed to have found a career and a small group of peers that find value in the very traits that made me the subject of ridicule, separation and even physical restraint (another story for another time) in a broken school system.

If there are to be labels for children and the way they think, let them be used to offer more and better options and a greater understanding of their gifts, not to measure their distance from an imaginary center held as the ideal approach to learning and socializing. As it stands, normalcy is defined by a child’s adherence to a broken, outdated and narrowly focused system and virtually everything short of that is a disorder at worst and disruptive at best. If we begin to change our views and our establishments to suit the endless resource of young minds, everyone wins. If we stifle them to suit an old educational and social framework, everyone loses — everyone.

February 25, 2010 at 11:36 am 1 comment

USNUSP Press Release: CRPD Signature

Users and Survivors of Psychiatry Support President Obama’s Intention to Sign the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
Signature is only the beginning; grassroots engagement is essential to meaningful ratification

Washington, DC | July 24, 2009 | The U.S. Network of Users and Survivors of Psychiatry (USNUSP), a newly-formed grassroots human rights education and advocacy network, acknowledges the significant step taken by President Obama in announcing his intent to sign the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities today at the White House. In doing so, he moves the U.S. closer to joining the international community in committing to uphold the human rights of people with disabilities.

Drafted and negotiated under the leadership of people with disabilities themselves, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) represents a paradigm shift away from a medical model that views people with disabilities as objects of charity and treatment, to a social model based on the principles of self-determination and self-representation. The treaty addresses core issues of significance to people with disabilities, such as forced treatment and forced detention; access to voluntary, community-based services and support; non-discrimination; freedom from torture and other forms of cruel, unusual, and degrading treatment; social inclusion; and economic empowerment.

“Signing means nothing when we do not have access to basic rights, such as the right to live in the community,” said Anita Cameron, activist with ADAPT, a national grassroots community of disability rights activists. “We need to end the institutional bias against people with disabilities once and for all.”

“The CRPD unites all people with disabilities and allies behind a common goal: the struggle for our human rights and freedom. Signature is a positive step, and we will keep the pressure on Washington until the treaty is ratified, without reservations,” said Daniel Hazen, Co-coordinator of USNUSP.

“We should be organizing and raising awareness of the importance of this convention so that it doesn’t stall with a courtesy signature on it,” said Aaron Bellve, USNUSP activist. “We need to fight hard now for ratification, then for compliance. Then later, we will look back and wonder why we should have been made to fight at all.”

UN regulations call for the actual signing to occur in New York; today the President will direct Ambassador Rice, U.S. Ambassador to the UN, to execute the signature at a second ceremony on July 30 in at the UN Headquarters in New York.

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About the U.S. Network of Users and Survivors of Psychiatry: The U.S. Network of Users and Survivors of Psychiatry (USNUSP) seeks to facilitate connections among users and survivors of psychiatry and allies in the disability and human rights movement to engage in human rights education, advocacy, and community organizing.

For more information, contact: Leah Harris, Co-coordinator, USNUSP
Tel: (202) 236-7747 
Email: leahharris@usnusp.org 
Web: http://www.usnusp.org

July 24, 2009 at 8:18 pm


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