Imperfect Democracy and Mental Health

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The January 5, 2009, New York Times reports in its Memo from Pravda that “In Eastern Europe, Lives Languish in Mental Facilities.”

“A study of guardianship in eight former Communist countries completed last year by the Mental Disability Advocacy Center in Budapest found jaillike regimens for patients with a wide range of mental disabilities, with one million adults in the region subject to ‘significant, arbitrary and automatic’ violations of their human rights.”

This disturbing article goes on to report: “In the two decades since free markets and imperfect democracy took hold in Eastern Europe, the laws governing guardianship have largely remained intact, stripping hundreds of thousands of people of the authority to make the most basic decisions about their lives, even when they may be capable of looking after themselves, advocates say.”

The article by Matthew Brunwasser goes on to say:

(1) The laws of Bulgaria and across the region fail to ensure oversight of guardians. This is called “civil death,” certainly an oxymoron.

(2) Legislation makes it too easy to petition courts and for courts to grant guardianship to those who hardly qualify; those who would take advantage of their authority.

(3) Legal appeals to remove guardianship and restore legal capacity lead to Kafkaesque situations. Some countries, like Hungary, show progress in changing this deplorable “system” of dumping and forgetting those with mental illness.

It is difficult to believe these are 21st-century conditions. The American Mental Health Foundation urges all readers of this blog to contact the Mental Disability Advocacy Center and other human-rights groups to protest these horrors and to foster humane treatment for those who most need our protection. Does anyone remember the Gospel? (quoted here perhaps imperfectly): “Whatever you do to the least of mine, you also do to me.”

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