Saturday 9 April 2016

The medicalisation of daily life: a Swedish example

This talk by Siv Westerberg has a very familiar ring to it:

"The European history of the twentieth century has some horrible examples of how a democracy can turn into a totalitarian state. Mostly such a transformation is brought about by armed soldiers and policemen in uniform. Those soldiers and policemen use brutal physical violence against anyone who refuses to obey their orders. For every citizen in those states it is immediately obvious that those brutal servants of the state are their enemies. It is immediately obvious to the citizen that this is the end of freedom. From then on they know you are permitted just to say things or do things or even think things that the totalitarian state permits. Otherwise something very bad will happen to you. "

"But the development in Sweden towards a socio-medical totalitarian state wasn't like that. In fact the army and the police have very little power in Sweden. Instead, the government achieved their totalitarian power by using persons whom the ordinary citizen believes to be their friends. Where other European dictatorships once used policemen and armed soldiers to make the citizens obedient, the Swedish authorities use doctors, nurses, midwifes, teachers, pre-school teachers and child-care assistants to do their dirty work for them. " [Named Persons ? ]

"The Swedish authorities chose to 'medicalize' a lot of different features of daily life and to describe various kinds of quite normal behaviour as 'pathological'. For instance, a fond and protective mother has been described as having an 'unhealthy, symbiotic relationship', with her child; it was enough to render her an unfit mother. Or take, for example, the fact that it is sometimes untidy in a house where a family where four small children are living. In Swedish court proceedings, that can be developed into a theory that the mother must have some psychiatric disease and that the children's health is jeopardized when the house is untidy; because an expert, a child-psychiatrist, says so. "

"And for the ordinary citizen such a method is almost more dangerous than using armed soldiers and police. If you were a Jew in the nineteen-thirties in Nazi-Germany, you knew very well that the Gestapo was your enemy. You knew that it was wise to avoid having anything to do with them. But in Sweden they use officials whom you, in the beginning, believe are your friends. "

"Because most people believe that the midwife in the maternity welfare clinic, the doctor you consult when you or your children fall ill, your children's teachers, the social officials that poor people meet when they have to ask for some economic support at the end of the month, - you believe that they are your friends, not your enemies. Initially these professional people are friendly; they seem to be really interested in you and your family's wellbeing. They are so friendly and nice to you that you get confidence in them. So you confide in them concerning your family's life. You tell them that, as the mother of four small children, you are sometimes terribly tired and exhausted from all the jobs you have with the children. In that moment you can't even dream that a few years later you will get those words thrown back in your face in a court proceeding. A court where the Swedish authorities are going to deprive you of your right to care for your own children. Court proceeding where the Swedish authorities intend to take your children into forcible care and send them to a foster-home..."

"It is in the hope of alerting educated opinion outside of Sweden that I come to speak to you today. You may not be able to do anything for us in Sweden since that is our responsibility - but, at the very least, I hope that you will recognise the simple techniques by which the state can seek to gain power over its people. In resisting such moves here, you may be able to isolate and shame Sweden into putting her own house in order."


Lecture to the Family Education Trust, London , 19 June 1999 [Siv Westerberg (Lawyer) ]

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