Friday, May 27, 2005


Back when the USSR was a world power, it was well-known that its leaders used psychiatry as an instrument of the Communist Regime to control dissidents; defining mental illness so that it conformed with Marxist-Leninist thinking and what was called the "Soviet Reality." "Sluggish Schizophrenia" was a term used by psychiatric thugs to diagnose anyone who expressed any sort of individualistic thought, or who argued against Communist philosophy. Many completely normal people were incarcerated "for their own good" into Soviet mental hospitals, and officials patted themselves on the back for protecting their society from such "deviants".

As an example of this attempt to incorporate Communist propaganda into psychiatry, I mention in my book Choosing the Right Stuff, how Soviet scientists, after illegally appropriating the MMPI (a proprietary psychological test) redefined several of its scales. In particular, the scale that assessed for psychotic thinking (Schizophrenia) was renamed "Individuality", and the Male/Female scale was renamed Courage/Weakness.

Eventually the World Psychiatric Association got around to condemning the widespread Soviet abuse of psychiatry, and expelled them from the organization in the 1970's. It was a number of years before the abuses stopped.

Now we have the same kind of behavior and institutional, ideological abuse of psychiatry beginning to be reported in the Islamic world (hat tip: Free Thoughts). Here is an article that describes how a Christian is being held in a mental hospital in Cairo until he recants his faith and converts back to Islam:

Doctors in a Cairo mental hospital are holding an Egyptian Christian against his will, telling the man he'll be a permanent resident there until he recants his faith and returns to Islam, reports a leading monitor of Christian persecution.

Reminiscent of the tactics of Communists in the USSR who put dissidents in mental hospitals, the forced stay, according to Voice of the Martyrs, has been in effect since January. At that time, the adoptive parents of Gaser Mohammed Mahmoud, 30, committed him to the El-Khanka Hospital after learning he had converted from Islam to Christianity two years earlier.

There is no question that society often asks psychiatry and psychiatrists to perform a "social control" function. In particular, we psychiatrists are often asked to determine if an individual is imminently suicidal or homicidal; and if so, then we have the power to involuntarily hospitalize that person for a brief amount of time. Laws vary by state, but in every case, the individual is entitled to a court hearing and legal representation.

As a Libertarian at heart, having such a power often disturbs me for several reasons. First, psychiatrists are probably only marginally better (if at all) at determining whether a person really is suicidal or homicidal. People lie to us all the time. Sometimes we think we can tell if they are speaking truthfully, but even the most experienced of us can be very mistaken.

The second reason is a fundamental truth that we don't want to face: if a person really wants and intends to kill themselves--or someone else--ultimately, there is nothing we can do about it from a medical/psychiatric perspective.

Yet, I have come to appreciate that my intervention, reluctant as it might be, has resulted in some people changing their minds and losing the desire to harm themselves or others. So, my discomfort is bearable.

At any rate, this "social control" function given to psychiatrists must be--in a free society anyway--as limited and tightly monitored as possible. For exactly the reasons that caused the WPA to condemn the Soviet abuses.

I don't know all the circumstances in the case above, but converting from Islam to any other religion or to no religion at all would seem to be a relatively sane move in most circumstances and places--except perhaps in the Middle East, where it can get you killed or, as in this case, locked up on a mental ward.

The question is, who are the real deviants?

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