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Soviets reenter world psychiatric society.

Soviets reenter world psychiatric society

The World Psychiatric Association (WPA) conditionally readmitted the official psychiatric society of the Soviet Union last week, giving a big boost to the imae and prestige of an organization that resigned from the world body six years ago rather than face charges of systematic psychiatric abuse of political dissidents (SN: 2/19/83, p.116).

At a meeting in Athens, Greece, the WPA membership voted 291 to 45 to readmit the Soviet All-Union Society of Psychiatrists and Narcologists. A WPA review committee, whose members have yet to be appointed, will investigate psychiatric hospitals in the Soviet Union after one year. If the committee concludes political abuse of psychiatry continues, a special WPA session will consider suspension of the Soviets.

While the vote represents a major victory for the All-Union Society, human rights activists and psychiatric critics within the Soviet Union opposed the WPA action.

"Recent changes in Soviet society have not extended to Soviet psychiatry," Semyon Gluzman, a Soviet psychiatrist imprisoned until recently for his efforts to expose abuses in his country's psychiatric system, told SCIENCE NEWS. "Our foreign colleagues [at WPA] did not take this moral issue into account. They made a political decision.c

The WPA also voted to admit -- without conditions -- a splinter group of Soviet psychiatrists known as the Independent Psychiatric Association. The group, founded earlier this year, opposed WPA membership for the All-Union Society until extensive reforms take place.

The American Psychiatric Association (APA) supported the conditional readmittance of the All-Union Society because it appeared the Soviets might otherwise have the votes to return with no strings attached, says APA's director of international affairs Ellen Mercer. She expresses confidence that the WPA review committee will include invididuals knowledgeable about claims of Soviet psychiatric abuse.

Officials of the All-Union Society at the Athens metings hinted changes in their leadership and adoption of international diagnostic standards may occur within the next year, Mercer says. The present leadership came to power in the 1960s and 1970s, when severe abuses allegedly occurred. The Soviet diagnostic system includes categories such as "sluggish" schizophrenia, which may be characterized only by the wish to reform society.

A delegation of U.S. psychiatrists that visited the Soviet Union in February found some signs of improvement in Soviet psychiatry. But of 27 currently or formerly hospitalized patients interviewed, 14 were deemed never mentally ill and another three had mild disorders not requiring involuntary hospitalization. The delegation also reported continuing use of antipsychotic drugs and other medications in large doses to punish those consigned to hospitals.

The delegation's report cites new legal protections for involuntarily hospitalized patients, but delegation member Peter Reddaway of George washington Universtiy in Washington, D.C., says most Soviet psychiatrists and patiens remain unaware of the safeguards. "The changes in the Soviet psychiatric system are timid and probably reversible," Reddaway says. "The WPA decision will slow down reform efforts."

In the coming year, the APA will monitor reported instances of psychiatric abuse independently and refer individual cases to the WPA review committee. If the review committee recommends permanent membership for the All-Union Society despite clear evidence of psychiatric abuse, the APA will lodge a formal complaint with the WPA, Mercer says.
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Publication:Science News
Date:Oct 28, 1989
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