The campaign for the rights of people detained in hospitals has achieved major victories! On Friday 4th October 2013, the Supreme Court confirmed its injunction stopping the forced injection of Saeed Dezfouli until a hearing on December 12. This has now become an appeal from the Mental Health Review Tribunal’s (MHRT) decision on September 12 to allow the hospital to inject Saeed. But it did decide for the first time that it had the legal power to stop it. And the Tribunal gave permission to the ABC to use Saeed’s name in their reports on his case.
These developments represent important wins in the fight for Saeed to have a say in his treatment and his right to his identity. The battle lines are well defined. The health system is exposed as a merciless and expensive abuse of power cloaked as “care”.
Saeed has been a patient at Long Bay Forensic Hospital for over ten years. He is a gentle person who never wanted to cause any harm. Saeed’s situation is a prime example of the lack of rights of people detained in hospitals and their failure to receive respectful forms of support.
The MHRT was asked to control the hospital according to normal standards. It previously has avoided that responsibility acting as a rubber stamp with the psychiatrists totally in charge. The media asked to report on proceedings with Saeed’s name included. On the 12th September 2013, the MHRT was confronted with the evidence of two psychiatrists, solicitor Peter O’Brien, and the legal team of the ABC.
Finally the Tribunal approved the ABC’s request to use Saeed’s name. This decision is significant, as it had been denied to him for years by the mental health legislation and authorities in NSW. The Health Department psychiatrists fought hard to stop it. This was supposedly a ‘protection’ of his privacy, but in reality was a method of denying his basic right to identity and recognition of personhood, especially in his struggle against the immense power of the Health Department. The symbolism of being letter “A” reduced him to nothing unique or worthy of protection in our democracy.
Then, for the first time, the MHRT acknowledged its jurisdiction to direct the Health Department in its treatment of patients. However, the MHRT expressly stated that their duty to intervene in treatments would only be exercised in “exceptional circumstances”. Saeed’s case was not an ‘exceptional circumstance’ according to the MHRT, therefore they would allow the forcible injection of Saeed. Business as usual…
This decision was despite the reports from two psychiatrists, including Dr David Bell, who went on record in an affidavit to the Supreme Court on 6 October 2013, saying that the antipsychotic medication could, at the dosage recommended by the treating team, “damage the brain as well as producing the metabolic syndrome” (p 4) and “at that level it produces effects that can resemble mental illness such as schizophrenic psychosis” (p 4).
In the same hearing, the Tribunal also rejected the possibility that social support is relevant to Saeed’s forced medication, claiming that it was a “medical issue”. However it was clearly wrong again. Mental illness, even psychosis, can be treated in social ways as part of recovery more effectively than medication. ‘Recovery’ is the process of giving the person control over their lives and has now been recognised as the leading paradigm by the Coalition of Australian Governments (COAG). It has now incorporated this paradigm into mental health services in Australia through the National Recovery-Oriented Framework. Forced medication is exactly the opposite of the recovery paradigm.
On the 26th September, the injunction against Saeed’s forced medication was ordered by Justice Patricia Bergin in the Equity Division of the Supreme Court and the case will be heard on 12th December 2013. This marks a step towards recognition of the human rights of people in hospital with the court directing the term “Recovery” to mean something real in practice.