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The Abuse of Psychiatry for Political Purposes 

The Abuse of Psychiatry for Political Purposes
The Abuse of Psychiatry for Political Purposes

Robert van Voren

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date: 19 September 2021

Robert van Voren describes and analyses totalitarian political abuses of psychiatry. In the former Soviet Union, he notes how dissent and ‘grandiose reformism’ were repressed through expanding psychiatric diagnosis and incarcerations in Special Hospitals, and how science and clinical practice bowed to state power as key psychiatrists knowingly developed and implemented this system on Party and KGB orders. For many Soviet psychiatrists this system seemed logical (to give up everything for such fundamentally different convictions seemed ‘madness’) and avoided difficult questions with authorities. The World Psychiatric Association suspended Soviet membership in the 1980s until abuses were halted; the subsequent discussions on medical and psychiatric ethics resulted in WPA declarations. In China, dissidents reported psychiatric abuses in the Falun Gong crackdown from 1999. However, China’s officially published psychiatric and legal literature indicates large-scale political abuse of psychiatry from the 1950s and 1960s, increasing enormously during the Cultural Revolution, thereafter emulating that in the Soviet Union. A network of high security forensic psychiatric institutions managed a sizeable percentage of political cases, which recently may have decreased. Information restrictions would prevent most Chinese psychiatrists knowing this. Paradoxically and separately, a lack of state control over psychiatry has resulted general psychiatric hospitals increasingly incarcerating ‘petitioners’ or whistleblowers in cases that may not have political connotation. Chinese media increasingly report these abuses, which are aggravated by deficient uniform psychiatric training and national mental health legislation protecting patients’ rights. The Ministry of Public Security has recently (May 2010) emphasized that monitoring mechanisms must be established for mental hospitals, which must avoid giving of private favors during legal validation procedures, and not admit anyone who is not a mental patient.

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