Citizens Commission on Human Rights
|Legal status||Nonprofit organization|
|Headquarters||Los Angeles, California, U.S.|
The Citizens Commission on Human Rights International (CCHR) is a nonprofit organization established in 1969 by the Church of Scientology and psychiatrist Thomas Szasz, headquartered in Los Angeles, California. Its stated mission is to "eradicate abuses committed under the guise of mental health and enact patient and consumer protections." Many critics regard it as a Scientology front group whose purpose is to push the organization's anti-psychiatric agenda.
Efforts for psychiatric reform
The CCHR achieved an early victory in a 1969 Pennsylvania case involving Victor Győry, a Hungarian refugee who had been committed to a psychiatric hospital against his will in April of that year. The police officers committing Győry said he had tried to kill himself. Doctors at Haverford State Hospital, failing to realise that Győry spoke very little English and was trying to address them in Hungarian, judged him "incoherent" and diagnosed him as a paranoid schizophrenic. The hospital refused Győry's request for legal representation, and administered drugs and electroshock treatment to him against his will over a three-month period. An aide at the hospital eventually notified the CCHR, who, under an initiative led by Szasz and lawyer John Joseph Matonis, took the case to court and secured Győry's release.
The CCHR continued to lobby for legislative reform on mental health issues such as the keeping of detailed computer records on involuntarily committed patients and their families, and "drug experimentation" without patients' consent. The CCHR would typically request a tour of a psychiatric hospital, issue a public report based on patient testimony and other sources, and then push for legal investigations and reform. Its early focus was on involuntary commitment procedures.
Since then, the group has organized media campaigns against various psychiatrists, psychiatric organizations and pharmaceutical companies, including Eli Lilly, the manufacturer of Prozac. One campaign is said to have caused a major fall in sales of Prozac, causing considerable commercial damage to the company.
The group campaigned against the use of Ritalin for the treatment of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, a disorder which the organization dismisses as nonexistent. The campaign was part of the Ritalin class action lawsuits against Novartis (the manufacturer of Ritalin), CHADD, and the American Psychiatric Association (APA); all five lawsuits were dismissed in 2002.
In 2003, the CCHR presented a report with the title "The Silent Death of America's Children" to the New Freedom Commission on Mental Health, with case histories of several dozen under-aged psychiatric patients who had died as a result of psychotropic drug treatment and restraint measures in the 1990s and early 2000s.
In 2004, the CCHR sponsored a bill requiring doctors to provide patients with information about a medication's side effects before prescribing any psychotropic drugs, while also mandating a legal guardian's signature. Opponents of the bill argued that these additional procedures might discriminate against mentally-ill patients while delaying treatment. The bill attracted widespread disagreement from the medical establishment, including the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health, who opposed it on the grounds that it compromised informed consent. The Massachusetts Psychiatric Society also opposed the bill, believing that it would interfere with the doctor-patient relationship.
On 5 October 2006, National Mental Health Screening Day, the CCHR picketed outside of Riverside Community Care in Wakefield, Massachusetts, holding a protest rally against mental health screening. According to journalist Gary Band in the Wakefield Observer, "The protest fell somewhat flat because Riverside has not conducted these screenings since 2001."
According to a report from the National Center for Biotechnology Information the CCHR has uncovered real cases of faulty psychiatric care, which gave them some credibility; conversely, the CCHR has been accused of using pseudo-science and false information to disingenuously validate their claims .
Chelmsford Hospital and DST
From 1988 to 1990 the Australian government held the Chelmsford Royal Commission inquiry into Deep Sleep Therapy (DST). For a decade prior, the CCHR had been pushing for an investigation of the Chelmsford Private Hospital in New South Wales, and its head, Dr. Harry Bailey, who had been practising DST from 1963 to 1979. Honorable Justice John (J. P.) Slattery, Royal Commissioner, is quoted as stating that the CCHR "contributed considerably to advance the cause of the Chelmsford patients in their campaign for an open inquiry into the hospital." The inquiry discovered that deep sleep therapy had killed 24 patients, not counting patients who had killed themselves, and close to a thousand had suffered brain damage. Of the former patients, 152 received reparations from a fund totaling in excess of 5 million dollars.
Chelmsford Hospital was forced to close in 1990, and two of its psychiatric staff were made to face charges in 1992. Dr. Bailey himself stepped down in 1979 due to the CCHR's protest campaign, and committed suicide by drug overdose in 1985, the night before he was subpoenaed to appear in court. His suicide note read, in part: "Let it be known that the Scientologists and the forces of madness have won."
CCHR have produced a number of documentaries promoting their view of modern psychiatry. These include:
- Making A Killing,
- Prescription for Violence,
- The Marketing of Madness (see chapter below),
- Dead Wrong, and
- Psychiatry: An Industry of Death, which was made to accompany the CCHR's museum of the same name.
The Marketing of Madness: Are We All Insane?
One of the interviewees is Claudia Keyworth, an advocate of 'Bio-Energetic medicine' who believes that healing is best accomplished using the "energy field of the human body". On the topic of mental illness, she asserts: "they say you have a chemical imbalance of serotonin and dopamine, but there's never been a study to prove that, ever."
Simplistic "chemical imbalance" explanations for mental disorders have never received empirical support; and most prominent psychiatrists, neuroscientists, and psychologists have not espoused such ill-defined, facile etiological theories. However, this theory has been widely promoted by the press, advertising and professionals so that the majority of the general western public believes in it.
The documentary claims that psychiatrists have convinced the public that normal negative human experiences are mental illnesses. An example used in the movie is the assertion that psychiatrists seek to label typical shyness as a "social anxiety disorder"; however, patients are diagnosed with a social anxiety disorder only at debilitating levels, where there is an "intense fear in social situations". Unlike a shy individual, a person diagnosed with social anxiety disorder is likely to suffer from symptoms such as nausea, stammering, and panic attacks.
Controversies and criticisms
The CCHR is often characterized as a front group for the Church of Scientology, which sponsors the organization. In 1993, the US Internal Revenue Service granted CCHR tax exemption as part of an agreement with the Church of Scientology International and Religious Technology Center (RTC) under which the RTC took responsibility for CCHR's tax liabilities.
The CCHR has been criticized by journalist Andrew Gumbel for "crudeness" and "paranoia" in its criticism of psychiatry.
Two scholars featured in the film Psychiatry: An Industry of Death, Holocaust scholar Michael Berenbaum and bioethics scholar Arthur Caplan, have rejected the attack on psychiatry and psychology. Berenbaum stated that "I have known psychiatrists to be of enormous assistance to people deeply important to me in my life," and Caplan complained that he had been taped without being told what the film was about, and called the producers "smarmy and dishonest."
In 1988, the CCHR claimed that Professor Sir Martin Roth of Newcastle University had used LSD in tests on mental patients in the 1960s. The statements were publicized in the Northern Echo newspaper, which was ordered by an English court to pay "very substantial" libel damages to Roth after the court found that CCHR's claims were "highly defamatory" and "utterly false."
Jan Eastgate, President of the CCHR and winner of the Church of Scientology Freedom Medal, has been implicated in covering up the sexual abuse of an 11-year-old girl in the Australian branch of the church. Eastgate was head of the Australian CCHR at the time and the girl was abused by her Scientologist stepfather between the ages of 8 and 11 years. Eastgate, who denied the allegations, labelling them "egregiously false", was arrested on 30 March 2011 on charges of perverting the course of justice but later released on conditional bail. All charges were dropped against Eastgate after an investigation by the New South Wales Director of Public Prosecution found that there was not enough substantiating evidence.
In the immediate aftermath of the September 11 attacks, CCHR promulgated a conspiracy theory assigning responsibility for the attacks to Ayman al-Zawahiri, alleging that, as Osama bin Laden's personal psychiatrist (although he is actually a surgeon), he was the principal mastermind behind the attacks and had brainwashed bin Laden using pain, drugs and hypnosis.
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- Thompson, Marie (2007). Mental Illness. Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press. pp. 96. ISBN 978-0-313-33565-5.
- Benjamin, Gedan. "Bill Would Curtail Presecriptions for Mentally Ill". The Boston Globe.
- "About CCHR". CCHR International. Citizens Commission on Human Rights International. Retrieved 5 July 2013.
- "Industry of Death exhibition on psychiatry walks a fine line". Canada.com. 8 August 2007. Archived from the original on 15 June 2011. Retrieved 23 September 2012.
"A major purpose of Scientology is to destroy psychiatry and replace it with its own pseudo-counselling techniques. And CCHR is one of Scientology’s front-group weapons attempting to achieve that goal", says Stephen Kent, a University of Alberta sociologist specializing in new religions and cults. Scientology holds that psychiatrists are "cosmic demons", he says.
- Kirsten Stewart (2 July 2005). "Scientology's political presence on the rise". The Salt Lake Tribune. Archived from the original on 14 July 2014. Retrieved 23 September 2012.
The church [of Scientology] kept a low profile, paying professional lobbyists to press its cause or relying on CCHR, which skeptics call a front group designed to recruit Scientologists and replace psychiatry with Dianetics.
- "[ Fence Post ]". Chicago Daily Herald. 4 January 2001. Letters to the Editor.
Dangerous program / In a letter to Fence Post (Dec. 12), Susan Stozewski of the Chicago Church of Scientology attempts to promote a drug rehab program called Narconon. I wish to warn readers that Narconon is a front group for the Church of Scientology. I found from personal experience that Narconon is a sham and is, in fact, a slick device to lure unsuspecting people into Scientology. An acquaintance of mine recently discovered that she had serious liver damage from Narconon's bogus "purification" program and she now cannot get health insurance coverage. Another Scientology front group to beware of is the CCHR or Citizens Commission on Human Rights. The CCHR is using tax-exempt funds in a covert campaign to discredit psychiatric-psychology treatment. The CCHR has an extensive network of agents that are distributing distortions about psychiatric treatment and medications such as Prozac and Ritalin. This is a very dangerous thing and people should be aware that it is going on. / Jim Beebe / Northbrook
- "U.S. Food and Drug Administration rejects Scientologists' petition". Business Wire (reprinting Eli Lilly press release). 1 August 1991.
The petition sought the removal of Prozac (fluoxetine hydrochloride, Dista) from the market and was filed in October 1990 by the Citizens Commission on Human Rights (CCHR), a Scientology front group. The FDA is to be commended on its careful review of pertinent scientific data, which led to this most recent reaffirmation of the safety and effectiveness of Prozac. From the start, the campaign against Prozac, of which the CCHR petition was a part, has been a dangerous deception. Scientology's disinformation is a menace to the public health as it attempts to frighten patients away from appropriate medical care and safe and effective medicines.
- "'Church' that yearns for respectability; Business of religion; Scientology". The Times. 23 June 2007.
Hubbard's empire ... Citizens' Commission on Human Rights: assets £4,000; turnover £43,000
- "The Scientology Church of Hollywood". The Globe and Mail. 11 September 1993.
Scientology's physical presence in Los Angeles and Hollywood is massive. It owns at least seven large buildings, staffed by 2,500 members, and is associated with a wide array of local organizations - "front groups" to their detractors. Some are directly affiliated, like the Citizens' Commission on Human Rights, an anti-psychiatry group, and Author Services, which represents Mr. Hubbard's books and hires actors like Roddy McDowall and Bruce Boxleitner to read the Scientology founder's books on tape. Others have Scientologists on staff and use church methods.
- "Scientology's War of Retribution on Deep-sleep Therapy". The Age. 22 April 1991.
Internal documents from the Church of Scientology, the parent organisation of the Citizens Commission on Human Rights, indicate that behind the church's public battle to expose abuses of psychiatric patients lies a hidden plan of retribution.
- "Scientology organizations". Charleston Gazette. 10 July 2005.
Scientology operates several drug rehab, education and anti-psychiatry organizations. / · Narconon: The church's drug-rehabilitation program was founded 35 years ago. It has 145 centers in 38 countries. Narconon is based partly on Scientology's belief that drugs accumulate in body fat. / · Crimonon: A prison program founded in 1972 that draws on Scientology principles to rehabilitate prisoners. The program rejects traditional mental-health care. Hubbard believed that Scientology could help rid the planet of crime. / · Citizens Commission on Human Rights (CCHR): Established in 1969 as an anti-psychiatry organization, CCHR promotes Hubbard's teachings against modern psychiatry. It charges that psychiatry has no scientific foundation, that psychiatric drugs cause violent behavior and that chemical imbalances have never been proven.
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