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Report Of Abuses In Turkish Institutions Could Affect European Union Talks
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
September 29, 2005

ISTANBUL, TURKEY--Turkey's government-run psychiatric institutions, orphanages, and so-called "rehabilitation centers" are violating international human rights laws by engaging in inhumane treatment -- including torture -- of thousands of adults and children with disabilities.

That's the conclusion of an 81-page report released Wednesday by the advocacy organization Mental Disability Rights International (MDRI).

The report could have tremendous implications for Turkey, which begins formal talks to join the European Union on Monday, October 3.

Earlier this year, MDRI investigators interviewed former patients for first-hand accounts of their treatment at the state-operated facilities. They also took photograph and video cameras into institutions to document the horrific conditions the residents and patients endure.

The investigators found that, because there are no laws protecting people with disabilities from institutionalization and harsh treatment, many people exist in dangerous, life-threatening circumstances -- particularly for children.

"We saw children who were essentially abandoned, starving, tied down to their beds," said Eric Rosenthal, MDRI's founder.

"Children's arms, legs, and spines become contorted and atrophy from the lack of activity or physical therapy," the report indicated. "The effect of living without loving care-takers or any form of stimulation causes some children to become self-abusive. Rehabilitation centers offer no assistance for self-abusive children other than to tie them down."

Staff had tied both the legs and arms of some children to their beds so they are permanently restrained. Some children, whose only form of stimulation had been to chew on their fingers or poke their faces, were protected from self-abuse by staff that permanently duct taped their hands into the cut-off bottoms of plastic soda pop bottles.

One video shows a child whose spine was curved backward so badly from a lack of therapy that the youngster could not lay down properly.

MDRI investigators also found that doctors in Turkey's psychiatric institutions were routinely subjecting nearly one-third of their patients -- as young as 9 years of age -- to electro convulsive therapy (ECT) without benefit of anesthesia.

During ECT, an electrical current is passed through the brain causing a full body seizure. While it is an accepted practice worldwide for treating specific mental illness, such as severe depression, it is normally administered with anesthesia and muscle relaxants to calm patients and to avoid pain, broken jaws, and cracked spines.

The human rights group found that Turkish doctors were administering "raw" ECT for such things as punishment. One doctor reportedly told investigators: "Patients with major depression feel that they need to be punished. If we use anesthesia the ECT won't be as effective because they won't feel punished."

The report details how patients were dragged to ECT sessions in straitjackets and then forcibly held down by staff during the procedures.

MDRI hopes that the report's timing will bring the attention of the world, and especially Europe, to the conditions in Turkey's institutions, so they can force government officials there to implement their recommendations and improve the lives of people with disabilities.

"The Government of Turkey must make a commitment to the full inclusion of people with mental disabilities in all aspects of Turkish society," the report concluded.

According to the International Herald Tribune, the report will likely be used by European officials who oppose allowing Turkey to join the Union because of the country's poor human rights record.

[Editor's caution: I found both the descriptions and video clips of the conditions in these facilities and the souls that exist there heart-wrenchingly disturbing. -- Dave]

"Abuse of mentally ill is reported in Turkey" (International Herald Tribune)
Video: "Behind Closed Doors" (Mental Disability Rights International)
Report: "Behind Closed Doors" (MDRI)
Mental Disability Rights International

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