abuse, murder, sterilisation, suicide: honouring the dead

I reckon the title makes it puh-lenty clear that this isn’t a perky pollyanna of a post. On a serious note – if you’re likely to be hurt by it, please give it a miss. I don’t want to hurt you.

“Mentally and physically ill persons should be left to death; they do not have the right to live.” – Plato

Well fuck you, Plato.

Although I’ve already written about honouring our dead, I wanted to see just what information and statistics are readily accessible. I wondered if it was even possible to extrapolate numbers of deaths in psychiatric institutions globally. What about suicides? I wondered whether anyone in using the black triangle (formally designated to the ‘antisocial and work shy’) as a symbol of activism, the way the pink triangle is used by some queer organisations. People do, notably some anti-psychiatry bodies, some lesbian feminist ones (lots of controversy around that one) and some disability ones.

“I will not administer poison to anyone when asked to do so, nor suggest such a course.” – Hippocratic Oath

Eugenics has been around since ancient Greece and it reached its ‘peak’ during the first half of the 20th century. There is a lot more to it than the stats I’ve posted here (more reasons and a lot more countries); this post only deals with the mentally neurobiologically ill. Forced sterilisation, for example, has certainly not vanished completely, although in the first world now, it has become a matter of family petition followed by a court ruling.

Forced Sterilisation:
1907 – 1939: USA, over 30,000 people in 29 states, nearly half the operations were carried out in California.(First country to implement formal compulsory sterilisation in the name of eugenics)
1928 – 1972: Canada, 2,800 in 2 states.
1940 to 1945: Japan, 454.
1934 – 1945: Germany, an estimated 300,000 to 400,000 people.
2008: Russia, 14.

“Cripples and idiots, however incapacitated, enjoy the same human rights (though not necessarily legal competence) as normal persons… One human life is as precious as a million lives, for each is infinite in value…” – Dr Immanuel Jakobovits (1921-1999), former Chief Rabbi of England

Until the end of the nineteenth century, euthanasia was regarded as a peaceful death.


Nazi disabled victims memorial in Berlin.

1939: 3,700 shot in Poland.
1940 – 1941: Operation T4 – code name for Nazi Germany’s euthanasia programme. 70,273 deaths by gassing at the six “euthanasia” centers.
1941 – 1945: code name 14f13, continued ‘covertly’.
Totals: 200,000 – 250,000 mentally and physically handicapped persons were murdered from 1939 to 1945.

Present day: legal and voluntary euthanasia/assisted suicide, subject to application, available in Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg.

It is, of course, impossible to reach a remotely accurate idea of numbers of deaths in so called lunatic asylums, poorhouses, on streets …

Psychiatry possesses a built-in capacity for abuse which is greater than in other areas of medicine. – Medicine Betrayed

It’s impossible to know how many people have committed suicide due to neurobiological disorders and how many others have died due to complications of the disorders and their treatment. How could we ever put a number to the amount of dissidents categorised as mentally ill and then killed? I don’t even know how many died during apartheid’s ‘mental illness genocide’ – but I’ve downloaded more academic papers on the subject.

We have a lot of dead to mourn.

We have many lessons to learn.

Jewish Virtual Library – Nazi Euthanasia Program: Persecution of the Mentally & Physically Disabled
Daily Telegraph – Hitler’s mentally ill cousin “killed in Nazi gas chamber”
Wikipedia – Forced Sterilisation
Concentration camp prisoners who wore a black triangle will be honored in a new Berlin memorial
A General History of Euthanasia (life.org)
Daily Maverick – Mental illness and euthanasia: a conundrum within an ethical dilemma
H-Madness – a history of psychiatry (academic site on WordPress)
Medicine Betrayed – the participation of doctors in human rights abuses
Apartheid & Mental Health (article download)

And I stumbled across this truly fascinating article along the way, Myth vs. Fact: Violence and Mental Health

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