ANKARA (Combined Sources)– A Washington-based human rights group has accused Turkey of subjecting mental health patients to serious abuses–including electric shock treatment without anesthesia–and is urging the European Union to demand an end to the practices.
The report–by Mental Disability Rights International–came after several visits in the past year by the group’s investigators to Turkish psychiatric hospitals and was published days before Turkey is scheduled to begin negotiations to join the EU.
"As the European Union meets to consider Turkey’s human rights record? we ask them to demand action by the government of Turkey to end these human rights violations," the report concluded.
According to the report–people with mental or psychiatric disorders are "subjected to treatment practices that are tantamount to torture."
The group said electric shock therapy was "massively overused in Turkish psychiatric facilities in cases for which there is no clinically proven justification," and that they were used as a form of punishment.
Electric Shock Therapy is normally administered with anesthesia and muscle relaxants. Without them it can be painful–terrifying–and dangerous. Patients can break jaws or crack vertebrae during the induced seizures.
The investigators also found that the treatment was used as punishment. The report describes patients being dragged to electroshock therapy in straitjackets and forcibly held down during the procedure.
"If we use anesthesia the ECT [electroconvulsive therapy] won’t be as effective–because they won’t feel punished," the report quotes Musa Tosun–the director of the electroconvulsive therapy center–as saying.
Referring to that statement–Eric Rosenthal–the founder of the rights group–said in a telephone interview from Istanbul–"That was one of most horrifying statemen’s I’ve ever heard in 12 years of doing this work."
Much of the documented abuse took place in orphanages and rehabilitation centers for children with developmental or intellectual disabilities. Investigators saw emaciated and neglected children–many of whom had behavioral problems that were likely to have been the result of mistreatment rather than pre-existing illness–Rosenthal said.
"We saw children who were essentially abandoned–starving–tied down to their beds," he said–adding that investigators had not been allowed to see the worst wards.
Although the center keeps no mortality records–a footnote in the report notes that the large number of admissions without a corresponding number of discharges suggests that many children die at the center.
"We believe there’s a very high death rate in these facilities," Rosenthal said.
Turkish Health Ministry officials were not immediately available for comment.