Friday, 17 January 2020

Righting Wrongs

Torture and Ill-Treatment in State Medical Facility

New Zealand has been told to shape up or ship out.  Well, loosely speaking, that is.  The issue is what went on at the Lake Alice psychiatric hospital.  The essence of the allegations is that patients were involuntarily belted down and subjected to shock therapy--as a deliberate punishment.  
The Government should conduct an urgent investigation into allegations of torture at a New Zealand psychiatric facility, the United Nations says.  The recommendation comes from the UN's Committee against Torture, which has upheld a complaint from former Lake Alice patient Paul Zentveld.

Zentveld was just 14 years old when he was first admitted to the Manawatū hospital's child and adolescent unit. There, he said he was given electro-convulsive therapy (ECT), was drugged and was placed in solitary confinement.  Zentveld was admitted to Lake Alice five times, for a total period of nearly three years.

In an "advance unedited version" of the decision, the UN committee recommended the New Zealand Government conduct a "prompt, impartial and independent investigation" into all allegations of torture and ill-treatment at Lake Alice.  [Newshub]
These things took place in the 1970's.  It is not ancient history.  But Lake Alice is now closed.  What it represented is framed by authorities as something which belongs to the ancient, dim, dark, and distant past.  Unless one suffered the shock therapy, of course.

The United Nations has found New Zealand breached the Convention against Torture by failing to properly investigate abuse at Lake Alice Hospital in the 1970s.  Newshub Nation spoke to five men who claimed psychiatrist Selwyn Leeks electrocuted their genitals as a punishment while at the Manawatu hospital.

Leeks has never faced charges, which prompted victim Paul Zentveld to go to the UN. 
Zentveld said he was diagnosed with a behavioural disorder by Leeks in 1974, who then tortured him. "They had you sitting in the chair or lying on the bed - nurses holding you down. You had no choice."

Zentveld, who was helped with his UN complaint by the Patient Rights Group called Citizens Commission on Human Rights, calls the UN's decision a "victory" for all survivors.  Repeated attempts to contact Leeks, who now lives in Australia, have been unsuccessful, but he's always denied any wrongdoing.

Zentveld and 194 former patients received a Government apology and compensation in the 2000s, but police decided there was insufficient evidence to prosecute Leeks.  But evidence is building, as other former patients have come forward with similar allegations.

"He applied shock treatment to my genitals. Left with permanent marks on the underside of my penis," Marty Brandt said.  "The genitals was his favourite spot. It was just straight pain," another victim Charlie Symes said.  A third victim Malcolm Richards said the electrocution appliance sparked and he received a burn on the end of his penis. [Newshub]
This is the sort of case out of which good law and governance can come--for the future.   

Doubtless the Ministry of Health would insist that all such bad things are in the past, something belonging to darker, primitive days of historical ignorance and primitive medicinal procedures.   But those that suffered appear not at all convinced.  They also believe that they have not been adequately compensated for their suffering.
The complaint to the UN was submitted in July 2017 by Victor Boyd of independent watchdog group Citizen's Commission on Human Rights (CCHR) on behalf of Zentveld.  CCHR New Zealand director Mike Ferriss called the decision "monumental".  "It fully supports what Lake Alice victims have been wanting all along - to bring to justice those responsible for the psychiatric abuse of children using an ECT machine and drugs". 

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