Psychiatric Slavery by Thomas Szasz
Why do I use the phrase psychiatric slavery as the title? I admit that its shock value was an attraction. However, my main reason for choosing this title was that I considered the comparison between involuntary servitude and involuntary psychiatry enlightening and valid.”
What is slavery?
Webster’s Third Unabridged defines it as “control by imposed authority” and illustrates its use by citing Jonathan Swift’s statement: “All government without the consent of the governed is slavery.” As times change, the meanings of words change. Today, the connotations of the term “slavery” are altogether negative. This was not true in ancient societies. There is no condemnation of slavery in the Old or New Testaments or in the Koran. Jews, Christians, and Mohammedans alike owned and traded slaves. And so did Blacks as well as Whites.
These are familiar facts. I mention them to underscore that, throughout most of history, people viewed slavery as a socially indispensable institution and that this perception was shared by masters and slaves alike. In Psychiatric Slavery I show how the premise that psychiatric slavery is a socially indispensable institution undergirds all efforts at so-called psychiatric reform and that (with few exceptions) this perception is shared by mental health professionals and mental patients alike.
Since liberty implies responsibility, it is easy to see the source of slavery’s appeal: it promises relief from responsibility. Conservatives and libertarians know this well, yet rarely apply it to psychiatry. In 1950, Dean Russell, a respected conservative commentator, wrote:
Many present-day Americans are trying to avoid this personal responsibility that is freedom. They are voting for men who promise to install a system of compulsory, government-guaranteed “security”—a partial return to the slave laws of Georgia that guaranteed all slaves “the right to food and raiment, to kind attention when sick, to maintenance in old age …” Just as the law once guaranteed “adequate” medical care for American slaves, so a law to guarantee medical care for all Americans is being demanded today. And who will determine what is adequate medical care for a person?
In a few short years, the sort of health care system Russell warned against has become a part of the “American Way of Life.” How could Russell have so underestimated the American peoples susceptibility to the siren song of security from life-as-illness? In part, by ignoring psychiatric slavery.
Commenting on the government’s efforts to protect people from themselves, he declared: “Since they recognized the absurdity of passing laws to protect a person from himself, they left all citizens free to make their own decisions concerning their own personal welfare.” Russell could not have been unaware that “mental patients”—cast in that role by others or themselves—were deprived of the right and freed of the duty to “make their own decisions concerning their own personal welfare.”
Preface to the Original Edition
1 Justifying the Unjustifiable
2 The Case of Kenneth Donaldson
3 The Brief for Donaldson
4 The Brief for O’Connor
5 The Brief for the American Psychiatric Association
6 The Supreme Court’s Dccison in O’Connor v. Donaldson
7 Interpretations of the Supreme Court’s Donaldson Decision
8 A Right to Treatment or a Right to Treat?
9 Chattel Slavery and Psychiatric Slavery Notes
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