“State Sponsored Child Abuse” trumpets the subhead in the influential e-mail e-zine What We Now Know (subscribe by clicking on this link).
The story recounts a grizzly story about the severe psychiatric misuse of children in the Montreal foster child system. It would be shocking if it was the first time we heard about such shenanigans in the world of psychiatry.
“Of course you have heard of the Nazi Angel of Death, Dr. Josef Mengele, who became infamous for conducting grueling medical experiments on concentration camp inmates during WWII. Some of his victims were children. He tested unsafe drugs on them, injected them with lethal germs, removed their organs and limbs and performed sex change operations on them. His primary interest were identical twins,” says WWKN. It goes on:
“Thank goodness something like that could never happen here. Or could it?”
The children in this story are now called the “Duplessis Orphans”, in a dubious reference to Duplessis, the hard-nosed and seemingly heartless Premier of Quebec during the time the incident occurred.
In the 1940s and '50s, between 1,500 and 20,000 (some say up to 50,000) children living in Catholic orphanages in Quebec were subject to severe abuse. Practically overnight and without good reason, perfectly healthy children were declared mentally ill or retarded and entire orphanages were converted into psychiatric wards.
Why? Because psych hospitals were paid more than three times as much per “inmate” than orphanages. It became an obvious economic benefit to define an orphan as “insane”.
According to the article, Hervé Bertrand, one of the victims, remembers how a doctor visited his third-grade class and asked him what the word "compare" meant. "I didn't know," remembers Bertrand. "We hadn't studied it yet. That's how it was decided that I was retarded."
Surviving victims allege that some of the children underwent painful experiments, electroshock treatments, even lobotomies. Most were pulled from their schools and forced into farm labor or hospital maintenance and brutally beaten for non-compliance. Many were physically and sexually abused by the Catholic priests, nuns and administrators. Some died of their injuries. (According to unconfirmed news, a mass grave with the bones of hundreds of children was recently discovered just outside of Montreal.)
The Duplessis scandal was revealed when a 1961 commission on Quebec's psychiatric hospitals found that more than 30% of the 22,000 patients didn't belong there, most of the falsely diagnosed being illegitimate children. (Not all of the children were actual orphans; many were born out of wedlock.)
The Canadian Broadcasting Story on the subject is told at this link.