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Independent Living News & Policy from the National Council on Independent Living

Shield and Intersectional Rights Protection

An Update from the NCIL Mental Health Subcommittee

Successful comics can be particularly good at recognizing what hovers below the illusions that most of us accept as unchallenged reality. The late George Carlin exposes one of the myths that many of us accept. He riffs that it is comforting to believe that we have rights, but what we really have is privileges and privileges can be taken away. It is this challenge that too often confronts select groups of people who find themselves alone and easy targets for discrimination and misguided treatments.

The Shield program of MindFreedom International (MFI) was developed to support the right / privilege of informed choice as a bedrock of social justice for people who have been labelled. Shield is designed to counter the power inequities that confront those who oppose decisions and treatments where their complaints and input are ignored.

Those in authority operate under the assumption that “for your own good” should be the unassailable guiding force in others’ lives. The opportunity to choose what works best for oneself is instrumental in the possibility of living a life of quality – whether it is choosing what foods we eat or the medicines we must take. We cannot passively accept that the freedom to choose will continue to be unavailable for some of us. Of course, we must have genuine information to make good choices, but we also must have the freedom to make bad choices. Knowledge, whether it is about food or drugs, is not stagnant; witness the ever-changing proclamations of what foods or drugs are good or bad for you. The late pioneer activist and author Judi Chamberlin often spoke of the so-called normals’ unimpeded choice to refuse possibly life-saving cancer medicine, while force is an accepted principle for administering psychiatric drugs to unwilling recipients.

At MFI we challenge the overly simplistic notion that a diagnosis of mental illness or disability justifies the incarceration of people in psychiatric hospitals, nursing homes and other congregate living centers where they are segregated from the community at large. John Stuart Mill, in his classic essay On Liberty,writtenin 1859, weighed in on the conflict between safety, security, and liberty. In his essay, he ponders a key question of personal freedom: In a democratic state, how can the individual be protected from the tyranny of the majority? Mill based his essay on one simple principle in which he stated:

… that the sole end for which mankind is warranted, individually or collectively, in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection. That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant. He cannot rightfully be compelled to do or forbear because it will be better for him to do so, because it will make him happier, because, in the opinions of others, to do so would be wise, or even right. These are good reasons for remonstrating with him, or reasoning with him, or persuading him, or entreating him, but not compelling him, or visiting him with any evil in case he do otherwise. In the part which merely concerns himself, his independence is, of right, absolute. Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.

MFI adheres to the principle that each person has the right to make informed choices to the best of their ability and to consult with trusted others for aid in making such choices. Today, there is a push to have the “mentally ill” controlled by placing them in institutions or forcing them to comply with drug regimens to perpetuate the illusion of enhancing public safety. To combat the mistreatment of those who are outside what is considered the acceptable standard of “normal”, MFI has developed Shield. At our office, we receive a large volume of calls by those seeking our help. Since Shield was created, we have helped a number of individuals to successfully challenge their confinement to a psychiatric institution. MFI has also helped others who were being forced to comply with a drug regimen dictated by a court-ordered Outpatient Commitment that was not of their choosing and potentially harmful. It is much too easy to silence the complaints of one person, when an abuse remains a secret. If the public is only aware of propaganda that believes in the need for congregate living and services that do not value the right for personal choice, too many will remain powerless.

Currently MFI believes it is essential to expand the effectiveness of Shield by creating new alliances with Centers for Independent Living and Protection & Advocacy for Individuals with Mental Illness (PAIMIs) throughout the United States.

We encourage you to look at information about Shield and past actions at mindfreedom.org/shield and to find out how you can get involved. MFI is determined to grow into a formidable force that will challenge the too frequent indiscriminate violations of one’s personal rights.

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