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VICTORY: Washington Sub-Committee Says No to Eugenics!

At 3:43 Pacific Time, Commissioner Rebekah Zinn confirmed that after receiving “a large number of responses,” the Guardianship Forms Subcommittee “will not create those forms” which would have made it easier and quicker to forcibly sterilize a person under guardianship in a legal way.

The fight against these dangerous forms included individuals in Washington’s disability justice community, local disability rights groups such as Disability Rights Washington, Self Advocates in Leadership, and People First of Washington; national disability rights organizations such as Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN), National Council on Independent Living (NCIL), Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, and Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (DREDF); and even non-disability related groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union and Gender Justice League!

The text of the email in full:

February 14, 2018

Dear Interested Groups,

A few months ago, I asked for opinions about whether the Guardianship Forms Subcommittee should create legal forms on the topic of sterilization of persons subject to guardianship. The subcommittee will not create those forms.

The sincere hope of the subcommittee has always been, and remains, to make sure that the rights of disabled people are upheld. The practice of forced sterilization is shocking and terrible. That is why the law requires the strongest protections for people subject to guardianship – including appointing an attorney for them, having a trial, and never allowing these procedures without a court order.

I have received a large number of responses, and I appreciate each and every one of them. Many of you told me your stories, your fears, and your opinions. I received helpful information about better ways to educate doctors and lawyers. Many of you thought that forms would make it easier to allow these procedures on disabled people. That would be an unacceptable result.

This is an important subject and one that many people care about passionately. Thank you for participating. You were heard.

Sincerely,
Commissioner Rebekah Zinn
Washington State Pattern Forms Committee Chair
zinnr@co.thurston.wa.us

Thank you to everyone who responded to call to #StopEugenics. When we fight, we win!

Institutions Will Not Solve Overcrowding

In an effort to keep federal certification and funding for Western State Hospital, Washington State added 200 new beds, hired hundreds of new staff, and other reforms to the tune of 100 million dollars. These reforms were primarily meant to solve over-crowding. It failed. Over-crowding exists at close to the same rate as before the hundred million dollar investment. How can this be?

No amount of beds will be enough to fill the demand of an unjust system. Some reasons for this include:

  1. Lack of Home and Community Based Services (HCBS) and the underfunded social safety net
  2. There are many more people identified, or who will be identified, as having a Serious Mental Illness (SMI) or several SMIs
  3. Institutions are not therapeutic and are often traumatic

First, the lack of or underfunding of HCBS such as

  • Supported-employment
  • Vocational rehabilitation
  • Housing vouchers
  • Quality, low-cost or free mental health services
  • Social safety which everyone relies on (e.g. SNAP/food stamps)
  • In-home care providers
  • Transition services for youth with disabilities

Drives people with SMI out of their homes and onto the streets with little to no opportunity where they face criminalization and may face institutionalization at either Western or Eastern State Hospital through a process known as “forensic civil commitment.” If they are deemed “rehabilitated,” people with SMI may still not be let back into their communities because the HCBS deemed necessary for release do not exist.  According to David Schumacher from the Office of Financial Management, there are “over 100 people in Western State Hospital right now that we could release tomorrow.”1 This exacerbates the serious overcrowding caused by issue two.

Realistically, accurate estimates of people with SMI who may be institutionalized at state psychiatric institutions are impossible. However, given the prevalence of serious mental illness—4.5% of the adult population in the USA2—it is likely within the tens of thousands range at any given time.

The current bed capacity at Western State is 887. Should the governor’s plan be adopted by the legislature, bed capacity will reach 932. Western and Eastern State combined cannot hold all of these people; thus, an endless cycle of more spending and overcrowding.

Lastly, the institutional model may not meaningfully rehabilitate people with SMIs. Many survivors of psychiatric institutions have come out saying institutionalization, and the culture of abuse fostered by institutions, has made their SMIs more severe3.  In addition, institutionalization has been shown to discourage people with SMIs from seeking community-based mental health care4. Western State lost federal certification/funding due to abuse scandals. In addition, pervasive abuse, including sexual abuse, of people within institutions across all disability populations and regardless of race, sex, and age shows that not only is it an inferior model of care, it is not care at all.

Instead of putting hundreds of millions into institutions, Washington State should be funding those home and community based services needed to keep people with SMI in our communities, off the streets, and out of psychiatric institutions. Not only will this benefit those in our communities, but it will allow those currently languishing in public psychiatric institutions to come back to their communities—fully supported and no longer being harmed.

Want to join the fight against re-institutionalization? Visit our campaign page Close Down Western State!

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1: David Schumacher speaking to the Ways and Means Committee on January 11th, 2017. Link: www.tvw.org/watch/?clientID=9375922947&eventID=2017011093&eventID=2017011093&startStreamAt=1604&autoStartStream=true

2: SAMHSA Behavioral Health Trends in the United States:  Results from the 2014 National  Survey on Drug Use and Health

3: While different psychiatric survivor groups/anthologies exist, we have chosen to highlight MindFreedom International’s page because they are shorter and easy to access. Link: mindfreedom.org/personal-stories/personal-stories

Pysch Ward Reviews (psychwardreviews.com), a project by disability rights self-advocate Kit Mead is also important but focuses more on private facilities.

4: Alternatives to Outpatient Commitment by Michael Rowe. Link: http://jaapl.org/content/41/3/332

Don’t Make Eugenics “Great” Again: Oppose Forced Sterilization!

One of our organizers was recently told about a plan by a group of lawyers representing guardians of people with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities (I/DD) to have the Washington State Supreme court make a form for approving forced sterilization, a form of medical abuse, of people under guardianship. Guardianship is where someone, usually a parent or other relative, has complete legal and medical control over another person, usually someone with a developmental disability or another disability. A person under guardianship has very few legal rights/protections. Forced sterilization is a form of medical abuse where a person’s ability to have children is taken away via surgery without their consent [1].

Forced sterilization is completely legal in every U.S. state after having been found constitutional by the United States Supreme Court in Buck. v. Bell [2] and many states, Washington included, have clarified in recent years when and how it can be done legally [3]. Still, forced sterilization is used far less than it used to be. Washington State law allowed first courts to sterilize “habitual criminals” in 1909 under a law known as RCW 9.92.100 [4].

In 1980, the Washington Supreme Court found in a case called In re Guardianship of Hayes that they had the power to approve or deny requests by a guardian for the person under their guardianship to be sterilized if

  1. the person under guardianship is represented by a person who acts in the “best interests” of the person under guardianship (guardian ad litem) who has no personal stake in the court case
  2. the court has received independent advice based upon a comprehensive medical, psychological, and social evaluation of the individual
  3. to the greatest extent possible, the court has asked for and taken into account the view of the person under guardianship

as well as ten requirements called “Hayes Requirements” which deal with whether the person under guardianship is sexually active, can have sex, and/or can care for a child [5].

At the moment, there is no easy way for guardians to ask the Washington Supreme Court to forcibly sterilize a person under guardianship. This because there are no forms that guardians can just fill out and then get approved with maybe around twenty minutes of arguments for and against by each party. Most of the time, it is done illegally with no consequences for 1) the doctors who sterilized the person or 2) the parent/guardians who asked for the sterilization, such as the case with Ashley X in Seattle [6].

Since eugenics is becoming more mainstream again (along with other fascist ideas), ableist parents of people with I/DD want to make it easier to sterilize their children without their children’s consent. On November 28th of this year, the Guardianship Forms Subcommittee sent out an email asking for advice on creating specific forms for the Washington Supreme Court to approve or deny a guardian’s request to sterilize the person under their guardianship. Linked here is what the subcommittee believes the forms may look like [7]. It includes a waiver saying the guardian wants a guardian ad litem to represent the person under their guardianship and an explanation for why they want the court to approve forced sterilization of the person under their guardianship.

These forms try to make the process of asking the Washington Supreme Court to allow a legal, forced sterilization clearer to parents/guardians as well as speeding up that legal process so that people under guardianship will be forcibly sterilized more quickly than before. Creating these forms will result in more forced sterilizations in Washington state. Forced sterilization is, again, a traumatic, human rights violating form of medical abuse that cannot be allowed to occur any longer!

So what is to be done?

The subcommittee proposing these forms specifically requested “the voice of disabled people and those who advocate for them” for advice, saying our voices were “of utmost importance to this decision.” [8] We need to respond to their call for advice and overwhelm them with our comments in opposition. They need to know we are watching what they are doing and we will not allow this policy of eugenics to happen—not now, not ever.

The person in charge of receiving comments about the forms is Commissioner Rebekah Zinn (Washington State Pattern Forms Committee Chair). Her email, as listed on the call for advice, is zinnr@co.thurston.wa.us.

Please email her opposing this proposal and mention any personal connection you have on this issue. A sample format is linked here at our campaign page. In addition, make sure to share this article on social media and tell people you know about this issue. Together, we can make them listen and stop this practice!

In solidarity,
Washington—No Modern Asylum

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[1] Wording/definition via Kit Mead.

[2] The Real Tragedy of Buck v. Bell 

[3] In re Guardianship of Hayes

[4] RCW 9.92.100 Prevention of procreation.

[5] Full Hayes requirements in this form 

[6] Ashley X 

[7] Motion for Sterilization (PROPOSED FORM)

[8] Letter for Advice on Sterilization Forms

Washington—No Modern Asylum Statement on the Need to Fight the American Health Care Act (AHCA):

Our healthcare and the freedom to live in our communities are under attack by the GOP and Trump. Yesterday, the GOP-controlled House of Representatives voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare. This repeal includes a 25% cut to Medicaid over the next ten years. This money pays for community-based services which has brought many thousands of people with disabilities out of institutions.

Institutions are inhumane, cruel, and imprisons millions of people with disabilities every day. In institutions people with disabilities are taken away from our friends, families, and communities; we are not allowed to live the way we wish; and we experience even higher rates of abuse than in community settings.

In addition, the lack of community-based services after many institutions were closed in the 1980s and the criminalization of disabled people-—and especially disabled people of color—led to disabled people, particularly disabled people of color, being forced into prisons and solitary confinement, a form of torture.

Repealing the Affordable Care Act is not an option. We will not go back to the days without the ACA and we will work hard to liberate us all. We demand that the United States of America stop caging people with disabilities and let us live our lives how we want in our communities with the supports we deserve.

Abolish prisons and institutions!

End the police state!

No repeal of the Affordable Care Act!