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Madness All Around

By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
April 11, 2012

It's either the PP and its ministers have gone mad or they want to take us back into a past we repudiated a long time ago. It was not such a long time ago that Verna St. Rose Greaves was seen ringing a bell, walking barefooted in front of Salvatori's building on Fredrick Street and engaging in what she called a one-woman protest against a perceived injustice. Now, she is a minister; a relatively enfeebled attempt at dissent by Cheryl Miller, a worker in her ministry, is enough to have St. Rose Greaves declare Miller unstable and tossed into an insane asylum for two weeks against her will.

Faced with this breach of Miller's civil liberties, the Minister of Health enters the fray and displays even more madness. He declares that anyone who "uses habeas corpus to remove someone against medical advice and against the advice of the specialists in the fields will have to be held responsible for that patient." Relying on a medical report he dismissed Miller's constitutional rights and kept her locked up in St. Ann's. One remembers with horror that this is what happens in totalitarian states. Disagree with your boss or the political party in power and one can end up in an insane asylum.

Before we get into this medical—legal wrangle, it is wise to remember that a physician is not God and the medical profession has not yet been elevated to a status of divinity that cannot be questioned or disputed. Psychiatry, the medical treatment of the mind, is much too young a field to be ascribed such a god-like status. The term itself was coined in 1808 and became a medical specialty around the middle of the nineteenth century. Anyone, physicians included, who feels he could speak ex-cathedra about the treatment of the mind is only fooling himself. Khan needs to recognize that the actions of his colleague—St. Rose Graves—is as repulsive as those of her colleagues who declared a state of emergency and picked up over 8,000 black young men without any rite or reason.

So that when Khan pronounces that "As doctors, we know that something is wrong [with Cheryl Miller]" there is no reason to accept his conclusion as truth personified. Some of the most important statesmen and scholars were bi-polar and suffered from serious bouts of depression. Sir Winston Churchill called his bouts of depression his "blue moods." No one sent in a pediatric team into the House of Commons or 22 Downing Street and carted him off to an insane asylum when he was conducting the war against Germany. No one would have dared interfere with the business of this important statesman on the ground that "Doctor knows best."

Sometimes, it seems that Khan and others forget that they are politicians always looking out for ways to advance their political careers or to save the political careers of others. Khan says: "People with personality disorders can be fully functional until that one straw that breaks the camel's back. A person may then commit suicide or hurt other people around them." Is he arguing that personality disorders are a sufficient cause to have people incarcerated?

Many people commit suicide and hurt others around them. Does such a rationale give Khan the right to incarcerate anyone whom he and his minions believe has a personality disorder? Does this mean that any one of us can be taken from our homes and placed in Psychiatric Hospitals since all of us possess some form of a personality disorder?

Stanley Marcus got it correct when he declared: "The lady was incarcerated for 15 days. Her constitutional rights have been infringed. It is a matter of liberty." Miller spoke for a bewildered nation when she reiterated: "I was like a dog without rights. But a dog is an animal. People suppose to have rights." Her only mistake was "to speak my mind and stand up for myself."

In apprehending Miller, the government says it was following the dictates of the law which state that "if a person is found wandering at large on a highway or in any public and who, by reason of his appearance, conduct or conversation, a mental health officer has reason to believe is mentally ill and in need of care and treatment in a psychiatric hospital or ward, may be taken into custody and conveyed to such hospital or ward for admission for observation in accordance with the section."

In using such a law, Dr. Khan and his colleagues were reaching back into the bowels of the dark days to incarcerate Miller. The Indenture Regulations that were put into place in 1847 to regulate the movements of East Indian immigrants read as follows: "Where any immigrant is found on a public highway or on any land or in any house not being the land or house of his employer, or in any ship, vessel or boat within the waters of the colony" the protector of slaves, an estate constable or the employer of the immigrant may "without warrant stop such immigrant, and in case he fails to produce a certificate of industrial residence or of exemption from labour or a ticket to leave may, if there be reasonable cause to suspect immigrant is indenture, arrest him and take him to the nearest Police Station, there to be detained until he can be taken before a Stipendiary Justice of the Peace" ("Leave and Desertion," Part 9)

In Miller's case, they did not even take her to magistrate until the intervention of citizens who realized the arbitrary behavior of the state was akin to that of our colonial master who had little regard for her individual liberty.

Miller says that her encounter with the law left her "kind of frightened." All of us should be afraid of the present regime as it tries to take us back to slavery and indenture. It's an insane but frightening prospect. Speaking one's mind in Trinidad and Tobago could land one in jail.

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