FIG1 The December 3, 2004, issue
of Psychiatric News contained a letter to the editor by Dr. Raymond
Freebury, former chair of APA's Committee on International Abuse of
Psychiatry. He called for the expulsion of the Chinese Society of Psychiatry
(CSP) from the World Psychiatric Association (WPA) in view of alleged abuse of
psychiatry against Falun Gong followers, drawing parallels to psychiatric
abuse in the former Soviet Union and stating that "there are times when
it is indeed better to be cruel in the present to be kind in the long
I would first like to remind readers of the WPA's efforts in pursuing the
case of the Falun Gong, which were outlined in detail on the WPA electronic
A delegation of the current, past, and future presidents of the WPA and the
chair of the WPA Review Committee met with our CSP colleagues and the Chinese
vice minister of health in January 2004. We agreed on a WPA/CSP joint meeting
in Beijing for examining records, interviewing patients and their families, or
interviewing doctors who were involved in the examination of some of the
patients. However, because of disagreement regarding the terms of reference of
the mission, we felt it prudent to suspend the WPA delegation visit.
The next meeting was on May 4, 2004, with the CSP president and vice
president. The CSP again acknowledged that it had identified instances in
which Chinese psychiatrists had failed to distinguish between
spiritual-cultural beliefs and delusions, and as a result persons had been
misdiagnosed and mistreated. The CSP explained that this was due to lack of
training and professional skills of some psychiatrists rather than the result
of systematic abuse of psychiatry. The CSP has undertaken steps to educate its
members and is looking forward to the WPA's assistance in correcting this
I would like to draw the attention of readers to the fact that Soviet
psychiatrists resigned from the WPA and were not expelled and that the"
improvement" of the situation in the former Soviet Union was not
because of WPA pressure but because of regime change. The resignation of
Soviet psychiatrists did not reduce the malpractice or provide Soviet
psychiatrists with protection in case they decided to challenge their
government. Furthermore, at the time Soviet psychiatrists did not show any
form of collaboration with the WPA as currently shown by our Chinese
colleagues throughout this long investigative process.
We need to be clear about what we want the WPA to achieve on the Falun Gong
case: an end to alleged abuse and helping our Chinese colleagues out of a
situation that involves a lot of political pressure, or making a"
sensational," "historic" decision. The question
deserves a responsible answer.
The Madrid Declaration is concerned with the protection of the rights of
our patients and the nonabuse of our profession. But we also identified the
right of our colleagues to be protected from harassment that might follow.
I believe that the demand put on Chinese psychiatrists without WPA support
would be a fatal blow to colleagues who serve about one-third of the world's
population. As an organization committed to the well-being of patients and the
dignity of our profession, we are committed to helping our colleagues and our
patients, not to cornering them for the self-satisfaction of having made an"
abstract," politically correct decision.
There is no reason why the WPA should be blamed. We shall continue our
investigation in a way that can support our colleagues and their patients
without losing them to a political suicide that may appeal to some colleagues.
This month a WPA delegation will meet again with our Chinese colleagues to
discuss issues of clinical diagnosis, classification, human rights, ethical
issues, and forensic psychiatry, as we continue moving the process
In a final note, we should remember the chaotic nature of the world in
which we live. None of us is immune from the politics of our governments. The
recent news about widespread torture is sobering. We might face evidence of
involvement of some of our colleagues in some of those atrocious events. It
would be all too simple to expel their associations from the WPA on the basis
of their oppression by their governments or armies. Our real challenge is to
professionally help our colleagues defy those abuses, protected by the
solidarity and support of their colleagues worldwide. ▪