Thursday, January 1, 2009

Coercive Treatment: It's Not Worth It

mentalnurse.org.uk is one of the only sites I've seen that allows the serious consideration of the possibility that allowing suicide can be morally correct, and that forcing people to stay alive through coercive "treatment" is often a moral disaster.

In a post by Mr. Ian, the experience of a commenter known as "Squawk" is related: she was subject to coercive psychiatric treatment, was "cured" and came out the other side, but, like me, she does not feel that it was worth it and continues to suffer from feelings of violation:
Was the coercive treatment worth it? Was going through utter hell every day for more than a year worth it? No. I love my life now, I’m not remotely suicidal, and I hope I do good things for the world. But even for everything I have now, the threats and the heavy meds and the tubes and the completely destroying *everything* I was 5 times a day every day day after day for more than a year - no, it wasn’t worth it. Nothing could be worth that. Not my first boyfriend, or getting my degree, or the first time a patient with PMLD recognised me and smiled when she’d only ever done that to her Mum, or being able to help the people I’m now volunteering full-time with who would otherwise have nothing, or eight years of a bloody fantastic life with ups & downs & friends & adventures & fun. Another eighty years, winning 5 Nobel Prizes, and being the first person to walk on Mars wouldn’t be worth going through a severe ED & treatment. Nothing could be. [Emphasis mine.]

I am sorry for her experience and agree wholeheartedly about the after-effects of coercive treatment.

Some people, of course, are forcibly treated and are later glad about it; I suspect that these are people without a strong sense of personal dignity.

7 comments:

  1. I'm afraid I know nothing about "treatments" for suicide, coercive or not, but Isn't there a contradiction in what Squawk is saying ? She loves her life now and isn't even remotely suicidal, and yet she would rather not have her life, which she loves, than have to have endured the "treatment".
    I don't want to be disrespectful of her feelings - as I say I have no knowledge or experience of these "treatments" - I'm just trying to understand.
    Isn't it possible that suffering or trauma can create a change of world-view ? Although we might never want to go through that traumatic event again we might still be able to acknowledge it's life-changing quality.
    It seems to me the problem of suffering is at the heart of the issue. For many people in our essentially Christian culture the endurance of suffering is something to be admired. This is why the suicide who doesn't see the value in suffering is considered unworthy.I don't share that opinion.
    But if a certain sort of suffering does sometimes have this healing ability to transmute the world into something endurable, maybe even something worthwhile, isn't it a good thing ?

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  2. I don't think it's contradictory, and I suspect that a large number of "reformed suicides" share her feelings. It's just that the ones whose stories are told are the ones whose story is comprehensible because it's the expected story: "I was so sad, but then I was locked in the hospital and humiliated and now I'm so happy and I'm so glad it happened to me, it was all worth it." Fine if some people are able to find that suffering "worth it," but many of us find this reaction to be a load of bullshit.

    Squawk's experience is similar to what Dostoevsky is talking about in Brothers K when Ivan Karamazov is describing the situation of the tortured child, once the torture is over and God takes everyone to heaven:

    "It is not worth one little tear of even that one tormented child who beat her chest with her little fist and prayed to 'dear God' in a stinking outhouse with her unredeemed tears! Not worth it, because her tears remained unredeemed . . . But how, how will you redeem them? . . . And if the suffering of children goes to make up the sum of suffering needed to buy truth, then I assert beforehand that the whole of truth is not worth such a price. I do not, finally, want the mother to embrace the tormentor who let his dogs tear her son to pieces! . . . . they have put too high a price on harmony; we can't afford to pay so much for admission. And therefore I hasten to return my ticket. And it is my duty, if only as an honest man, to return it as far ahead of time as possible. Which is what I am doing. It's not that I don't accept God, Alyosha, I just most respectfully return him the ticket. (Pevear-Volokhonsky translation, p. 245)"

    In this view, which I do not see as contradictory, suffering is so bad that not even heaven can redeem it. I wholeheartedly agree.

    Some feel that happiness can redeem suffering - that puppies and sunsets make the suffering of life tolerable. I think that is fine for people who can believe it, but this is a particular, almost aesthetic view, and its opposite is just as tenable - that no amount of happiness can redeem even the slightest amount of suffering.

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  3. Here's an analogy that might get rid of the suggestion of contradiction:

    A. is a Jehovah's Witness and does not wish to have a blood transfusion. Unfortunately, she needs one or she will die. Her doctors ignore her wishes and perform a transfusion on her anyway. She lives.

    No matter how much she loves her life, she will always feel that what was done to her was wrong and an insult to her dignity, and that it would have been better for her, all things considered, had the doctors not done what they did. She does not need to be suicidal for her view to be valid.

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  4. Here's yet another way to put it:

    You can value your life, but value other things (freedom, dignity) more than you value your life, without contradiction.

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  5. I'm sorry. My comment was pretty stupid and thoughtless.
    I agree with you that the idea of redemption through suffering is really just nonsense.And worse, it's a nonsense which encourages a kind of fetishization or glamorization of suffering.
    It's the kind of thing you might get from a cliche like, "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger." Which is patently not true. Most suffering which doesn't kill us makes us weaker, in my experience.
    I suppose I was just trying to persuade myself - unsuccessfully as it turns out - that an accommodation with trauma was possible.

    Anyway, I'd like to thank you genuinely for the work you're doing on this blog.

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  6. Not stupid or thoughtless at all - it absolutely helped me clarify my thinking - sorry if that didn't come through in my replies!

    I think some people find redemption through suffering. Look at Viktor Frankl. It's not necessarily a possibility to rule out. It's just not universal.

    I agree that there is a glamorization/fetishization of suffering, especially in Christianity. The Buddhist approach (as I understand it from my boyfriend, who was raised as an ancestor-worshipping Buddhist and has taught Buddhism) is still anti-suicide, but in a much more humane way - promoting reduction in suffering for all creatures, and realizing its universality, rather than glamorizing suffering.

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  7. Cledwyn Bulbs "Raging Bulbs"July 28, 2013 at 12:51 PM

    Victor Frankl redeemed through suffering? Surely not a moral redemption. Frankl was a coercive psychiatrist who often practiced with what Szasz described as a breathtaking brutality.

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