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World Psychiatric Association forced to cancel investigation trip to China
Stephen Gregory

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The World Psychiatric Association has cancelled plans to investigate a fact-finding mission to China to investigate allegations of psychiatric abuse of Falun Gong practitioners.

The World Psychiatric Association has cancelled plans to investigate a fact-finding mission to China to investigate allegations of psychiatric abuse of Falun Gong practitioners.

WPA President Dr. Ahmed Okasha called off the investigation after receiving a letter from the President of the Chinese Psychiatric Association (CSP). Dr. Okasha did not reveal the contents of the letter, except to say that he had no choice but to cancel the delegation, until such time as the CSP and the Chinese authorities agree to abide by the conditions set by the WPA for this mission. The WPA delegation was scheduled to begin its work on China on April 4.

This mission to China was called for by a resolution passed by the General Assembly of the WPA on August 26, 2002 at its annual meeting in Yokohama, Japan. Attempts to gain the cooperation of the CSP in arranging this mission had been fruitless until Dr. Okasha felt he had achieved a breakthrough at a meeting in China on January 10-11, 2004 with the CSP President and the Chinese Minister of Health.

According to Dr. Okasha, at that meeting, the Chinese officials apologized for the delay in responding to the WPA’s request, and explained that the Ministry of Health had been in turmoil, due to extensive changes following the SARS crisis and the revelation of the cover-up of SARS cases. The Chinese officials accepted all of the WPA’s conditions for an independent investigation into the allegations of abuse. The officials also agreed to the WPA presenting an educational forum in October, 2004 on issues such as forensic ethics, human rights, and diagnosis. They further agreed that China needs legislation governing the involuntary admission of psychiatric patients, an increase in the number of psychiatrists, and improvements in training.

At issue in the now postponed WPA investigation is whether the practice of Chinese psychiatrists is in compliance with the Madrid Declaration. That Declaration, approved by the WPA in 1996, provides the ethical standards that should govern psychiatrists worldwide. It expressly forbids the admission of patients for political, racial or religious reasons, or the involvement of the psychiatrist in any form of physical or mental torture.

Should the Chinese authorities not comply with the conditions for an independent investigation, the WPA General Assembly may choose to sanction the CSP at the next annual meeting in August.

Dr. Sunny Lu is a psychiatrist and a Falun Gong practitioner who helped take the lead in petitioning the WPA to investigate the alleged psychiatric abuses in China. She has no doubts that individual psychiatrists in China have been in gross violation of the Madrid Declaration.

“We believe at least 1,000 Falun Gong practitioners have been incarcerated in China’s mental hospitals for no reason other than their practice of Falun Gong. We have large numbers of reports of practitioners suffering severe abuse at the hands of psychiatrists and psychiatric nurses. We can confirm at least 12 death cases as a result of this abuse.”

Dr. Lu also has her suspicions as to why the Chinese authorities changed course at the last minute.

“Maybe the Chinese authorities could keep abused Falun Gong practitioners away from a WPA investigation. But a lot of people in China now know what is going on, and the authorities fear someone will step forward and reveal the truth, just as Dr. Jiang Yanyong did in the case of SARS.”

A call to the Chinese Embassy in Washington, D.C. asking for a comment on these developments was not returned.

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