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Soviet Psychiatry on Trial

- Abstract

THE Norwegian psychiatrist said he was worried. He was sure that his Soviet colleagues were abusing their profession in order to suppress dissent. But he was afraid that if the World Psychiatric Association voted to condemn them, as the British were proposing, then all contact might end, and with it any chance for quiet moral suasion.

It was Monday, August 28, 1977, the first day of the WPA’s Sixth World Congress of Psychiatry, and the vote would be taken Wednesday. Six years before, at the WPA’s Fifth World Congress in Mexico City, attempts to condemn the Soviets had been unsuccessful; the issue had never reached a vote. Since then, reports of Soviet abuse had built up. Appeals had been made that they end the practice of diagnosing political dissidents as mentally ill and of confining them in prison hospitals. The number of known or suspected cases had risen to several hundred. Formerly hospitalized dissidents, such as Leonid Plyushch and Vladimir Bukovsky, were extruded abroad and struck Western psychiatrists who interviewed them as healthy. Groups of psychiatrists around the world began to pressure their national societies to condemn Soviet practices.

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