Here is an open letter from MindFreedom International to the Lutheran Church [ELCA] about the involuntary outpatient electroshock of one of their agency’s clients, Ray Sandford. Ray has received another forced electroshock, this time on the morning of Christmas Eve, 24 December 2008.
[corrected 11 am PT]
Christmas Eve 2008
What Would Jesus Do About Forced Electroshock?
An Open Letter to the Lutheran Church [ELCA] from MindFreedom International [MFI]
by David W. Oaks, Executive Director, MFI
As we send you this, we understand Ray Sandford of Minnesota is receiving another involuntary electroshock this Christmas Eve morning, 24 December 2008.
As you know, your agency Lutheran Social Services of Minnesota (LSSMN) is charged with being General Guardian for Ray. This is a reply to your recent misleading public statement about the MindFreedom Campaign to End Ray Sandford’s Forced Electroshock (copied at bottom).
Regularly for months — presently every other week — attendants wake Ray up early in his group home, Victory House. He is escorted the few miles to a hospital. Under court order and against his repeated and clear objections, Ray is put under anesthesia, electricity is run through his brain, and he is given another electroshock, also known as electroconvulsive therapy or ECT.
Ray has received about 35 so far.
Ray calls our office most days, and it’s always good to hear from him. He told me yesterday, “It’s a painful, awful experience. Every time. It takes away memory viciously. It is scary as hell every time I go.”
Ray says he always objects. “I say, ‘I don’t want to do this. I don’t want to do this,’ which I’ve known since the first time. Everyone figures I’m totally nuts.”
One day Ray asked his local library about groups working on human rights in mental health, and Ray contacted MindFreedom International. Ray asked us to start a public campaign to support his right to say “no” to electroshock.
I had hoped your church would be an ally in Ray’s campaign. Instead, I have found you to stand by silently with arms folded, or even worse your spokespeople appear to at times oppose Ray’s campaign.
In my 32 years of human rights activism, Ray is one of the most focused individuals I’ve ever encountered in his persistent and reasonable requests to end his forced electroshock. The fact that his forced shock is outpatient and ongoing is especially outrageous.
Ray’s heroism has moved me and many others. Countless people have responded to support the Ray Campaign, and Ray reached millions of people on National Public Radio.
On 16 December 2008, the “Evangelical Lutheran Church in America” [ELCA] issued a reply to a number of people who have expressed concern about Ray as a result of MindFreedom’s human rights alerts. (See below.)
It is significant for ELCA to issue a public statement about a MindFreedom International campaign. With more more than four million baptized members, ELCA is the largest Lutheran denomination and one of the largest Christian denominations in the USA. We at MindFreedom are eager for dialogue with ELCA.
Unfortunately, Miriam L. Woolbert of ELCA’s Communication Services replied to those contacting ELCA that groups like MindFreedom are “misdirecting you and many other people.”
Ms. Woolbert did not provide any example or quote of such “misdirecting.” Her main points appear to be that ELCA is not a “participant” in any involuntary electroshock, and that ELCA cannot speak about Ray because of confidentiality.
MindFreedom’s alerts never claimed that ELCA is in charge of the involuntary electroshock of Ray. MindFreedom International encourages people to contact ELCA to ask you “to stand with Ray.”
Even if ELCA representatives feel you cannot speak specifically about Ray, we ask ELCA to stand shoulder to shoulder with all their agency clients, like Ray, who are receiving involuntary electroshock. ELCA could at least begin by expressing concern or joining in dialogue.
We continue to encourage all people who care to contact ELCA, and ELCA’s local congregations, with strong but civil messages.
Because of ELCA’s misleading statement about the Ray Campaign this action is especially urgent, including for those who have already contacted you.
Most importantly, Ray is asking us all to take this action.
* ACTION * ACTION * ACTION *
People may e-mail ELCA headquarters at firstname.lastname@example.org or use their web form by clicking on e-mail at this web page:
We also encourage all concerned people in the USA to contact local ELCA congregations, which they can find by entering their postal code here:
MindFreedom Suggested Message to ELCA and Local Congregations [your own words from the heart are best]:
I am not being misdirected by MindFreedom International or anyone else.
I am not saying you are in charge of anyone’s forced electroshock.
I am not asking you to break confidentiality of any client.
I am simply asking:
Will you stand now with Ray Sandford, and all those who are oppressed by extreme psychiatric abuse?
What is ELCA’s position on the forced, outpatient, maintenance electroshock of clients you and your agencies are charged to guard?
Why isn’t ELCA expressing concern about these human rights violations, which amount to torture?
How can ELCA use this opportunity to seek dialogue on human right and alternatives in the mental health system?
[your name & contact]
[Please copy your e-mail to email@example.com; selected e-mails will be published on the web and/or mailed to Ray.]
For more info the Ray Campaign see:
The MindFreedom Board of Directors includes several individuals who have personally experienced the unimaginable horror of an involuntary electroshock.
The board endorses this public statement to ELCA, and asked me to quote from the famous letter written by Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the Birmingham Jail on 16 April 1963.
Forty-five years ago, Rev. King was responding to church leaders who discouraged his own activist campaign:
“…I felt we would be supported by the white church. I felt that the white ministers, priests and rabbis of the South would be among our strongest allies. Instead, some have been outright opponents, refusing to understand the freedom movement and misrepresenting its leaders; and too many others have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained- glass windows…
“So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent and often even vocal sanction of things as they are.”
[More excerpts below.]
For those who would like more detail about this exchange between MindFreedom and ELCA about the Ray Campaign:
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS about Lutheran Church [ELCA] and Forced Electroshock of Ray Sandford
*** How does Ray Sandford’s feel about Lutheran Social Services of Minnesota (LSSMN)?
Ray has approved this alert, and asks everyone to contact the Lutheran Church [ELCA]. Ray knows that their agency LSSMN is not directly in charge of his forced shock. Ray said, “In some ways Lutheran Social Services is compassionate and helpful. They’ve visited me and are a support system. They manage my finances my fairly. But Lutheran Social Services does not listen to me. They don’t see you. They asked me to not do this campaign. They should support the person who doesn’t want electroshock. Tell them I don’t want shock!”
*** Does ELCA oversee Ray’s forced electroshock?
To repeat, ELCA is not directly in charge of Ray’s forced electroshock. We can understand ELCA being sensitive to this question. Media are starting to pay attention, and National Public Radio covered Ray’s story.
The legal jargon can get complicated. On 16 December, television station WCCO-TV in Minnesota mis-reported that Ray’s “guardian ad litem” Terri Bradley, who is the court-appointed person specifically and narrowly in charge of overseeing Ray’s forced electroshock, and who testified in court for Ray’s forced shock, works for LSSMN. WCCO- TV has since issued a public retraction.
Legally speaking, LSSMN is “general guardian” for Ray, but not “guardian ad litem” specifically on the electroshock.
*** What has ELCA said about forced electroshock?
Representatives of Luthern Social Services of Minnesota (LSSMN), an agency that is sponsored by ELCA, have refused to speak out about the abuse of their clients like Ray by repeated, “maintenance” forced oupatient electroshock.
On the contrary, LSSMN representatives, including their employee Tonya Wilhelm, have sought to discourage Ray and advocates such as myself from speaking out publicly about Ray’s abuse. My first contact with Ms. Wilhelm ended with her laughing loudly, saying this would be between our lawyers, and hanging up.
Helpful MindFreedom voluteers in Minnesota are now prohibited from even visiting Ray. Ray is kept from a follow-up visit to the Minnesota Center for Independent Living. Ray is not being offered humane alternatives to electroshock. Mail sent to Ray is re-directed to LSSMN for screening. LSSMN attorney George Borer wrote MFI on 1 December “emphasizing” that they do not consent to MFI disseminating info that Ray provided for the campaign that they consider “private.”
In a newspaper report on 18 November, Eric Jonstaard, director of LSSMN, did speak out about Ray to a reporter. Unfortunately, Mr. Jonstaard took the opportunity to chastise MindFreedom for using Ray’s full name in the Ray Campaign, as Ray has specifically and repeatedly authorized MindFreedom and NPR to do.
For more info on the Ray Campaign see:
*** What is ELCA’s link to LSSMN?
Through his bravery, Ray has offered us all an opportunity to create dialogue. Instead, Ms. Woolbert of ELCA seeks to distance ELCA from the situation by saying that ELCA is “not related to the situation” except for a “loose” sponsorship of LSSMN.
ELCA’s sponsorship of LSSMN is official, financial, legal, direct, public and documented.
LSSMN’s web site states that LSSMN is “owned” by six Minnesota synods of ELCA, and credits ELCA as one of its “primary” funding sources for their 2009 budget of $90 million.
Owned? A primary funding source?
How is that “loose”? Perhaps a lack of close oversight is part of the problem.
This dialogue should not be about technical quibbling. ELCA has a deep moral obligation to address oppression of any of their clients, or any human being for that matter. ELCA’s agencies receive millions of dollars in scarce taxpayer funding to guard these clients.
In Minnesota alone, Mr. Jonstaard says that LSSMN is responsible for 800 “vulnerable adults.” How many have experienced involuntary psychiatric drugging and electroshock? LSSMN’s Tonya Wilhelm told MindFreedom’s David Oaks that involuntary electroshock of LSSMN clients like Ray in Minnesota is “not uncommon.”
The moral failure of involuntary electroshock over the expressed wishes of the individual is not only committed by the individual flipping the switch, but by all those aware of the torture but who remain silent.
*** What about Ray’s confidentiality?
First and foremost, Ray has repeatedly, consistently, and passionately spoken out, as he puts it so clearly, for “No more shock for Ray.” He has signed a release of information form. He approved MFI and National Public Radio using his full name in a broadcast that reached an estimated two million people. LSSMN’s attorney admits the First Amendment protects the rights of this campaign.
The ELCA statement claims that “confidentiality” keeps them from addressing Ray specifically. In MindFreedom’s opinion, agencies such as LSSMN have the legal discretion and moral obligation to speak out about abuse of their clients to legislators, media, and the public if they choose. Ray has asked for LSSMN to do this.
At what point does confidentiality become cover-up?
However anyone interprets privacy laws, everyone admits it is completely legal for ELCA and LSSMN to speak out in general to the media and legislators about the policy of involuntary electroshock itself, which can impact a number of their agency’s clients.
ELCA has addressed other tough issues over the years. For instance, one of ELCA’s predecessor churches ordained female pastors as early as 1970. ELCA publicly wrestles with other controversial topics including abortion and homosexual pastors.
So what about joining a discussion about issues impacting people diagnosed with psychiatric disabilities? Isn’t it time? Isn’t it past time?
*** Isn’t ELCA right that this is a matter entirely up to the courts?
According to eye witnesses, and Ray himself, his most recent court hearing on 16 December, held in a hospital basement, was a mockery of justice. Ray was not able to secure a better attorney. His court- appointed attorney, Jon Duckstad, who Ray says has barely communicated with him, did not call one independent expert witness to defend Ray, and has refused offers of free help from other attorneys.
Social justice requires not just courts, but a sense of individual and group moral responsibility.
Washing ones hands as Ray is escorted to a forced shock on Christmas Eve is not acceptable.
*** Where else can people raise concerns with the ELCA community?
You may choose to bring this matter up with your own faith community, and ask them to begin to address these topics themselves and contact local ELCA congregations.
Also, by coincidence, the next ELCA Churchwide Assembly will take place 17 to 23 August 2009 in Minneapolis, the very region where Ray is receiving his regular, outpatient, forced electroshock.
It is time for all religious organizations to dialogue about the human rights and dignity of some of society’s most oppressed citizens, people who experience psychiatric atrocities.
One would expect many of ELCA’s participants would want to lead the faith community on the neglected social justice issue of human rights in mental health, rather than silence public discussion.
To quote ELCA’s web site about their church:
“It’s a story of a powerful and patient God who has boundless love for all people of the world, who brings justice for the oppressed.”
*** Why do you quote a civil rights leader such as Martin Luther King, Jr. about psychiatric oppression?
The civil rights movement was the inspiration for many social change movements, including the movement led by survivors of psychiatric abuse that began in the USA in 1970.
Other relevant quotes by MLK from his letter from a Birminham Jail include the following:
“I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly….
“An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statues are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality…
“You may well ask, ‘Why direct action? Why sit-ins, marches, and so forth? Isn’t negotiation a better path?’ You are quite right in calling for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue…
“I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action’; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a ‘more convenient season.’ Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”
[for more Frequently Asked Questions about the Ray Campaign, see “Related Content” link at bottom.]
Here is the reply ELCA has been sending to many people who have expressed concern about Ray:
Statement from Evangelical Lutheran Church in America [ELCA] About Campaign Against Forced Electroshock of Ray Sandford
Date: December 16, 2008 7:36:03 AM PST
Thank you for writing concerning a story you have heard or seen in the public media. The ELCA is not related to the situation, except as a sponsor of Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota, one of 280 such organizations in the Lutheran Services in America network. Sponsorship is a fairly loose term from a churchwide perspective, and usually means that people in the area of the affiliated agency represent the church on the agency’s board, and individuals and congregations may also contribute some funding to the agency.
Here is a response from Lutheran Services in America which explains the situation about which you are concerned:
To respond to your inquiry and comments regarding a recent story about the medical situation of a vulnerable adult under a civil commitment proceeding, who also has a court appointed guardian:
As a guardian, Lutheran Social Service has both a legal and ethical duty to keep the specific details of clients’ care and treatment confidential. While we can’t discuss the client specifically, we can speak in general about how we carry out our work.
Lutheran Social Service is appointed by the court to serve as a guardian or conservator to over 800 vulnerable adults in Minnesota. We are court-appointed to take on this role when individuals lack the capacity to make decisions about their affairs and there are no family members who are either able or willing to take on that responsibility.
A civil commitment is a separate proceeding in the State of Minnesota. When a person is civilly committed, a decision to impose electroconvulsive therapy (“ECT”) is a decision made by a commitment court and not the court appointed Guardian. In the commitment process someone, normally a health care professional, brings a petition for ECT treatment for the individual. The individual is assigned an attorney and a guardian ad litem (not Lutheran Social Service) who act as advocates either to oppose or to consent to the petition. The commitment court hears evidence from medical professionals and then makes a decision on whether to impose the ECT treatment. The court decision is then appealable by the client and the client’s attorney. Under Minnesota Statute §524.5-313, a general guardian such as Lutheran Social Service has no authority to impose ECT treatment against the known conscientious, religious or moral beliefs of the individual. The general guardian is not a participant in the civil commitment process regarding the forced imposition of ECT treatment.
Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota has a long tradition of serving vulnerable children and adults, and careful systems are in place to ensure that decisions are made with the person’s best interest in mind.
Eric Jonsgaard, Senior Director
LSS Guardianship Options
I hope this helps you understand the situation, and that you will tell whoever suggested that writing to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America might help make a difference that they are misdirecting you and many other people.
Miriam L. Woolbert
ELCA Communication Services
The above was sent by ELCA to a number of people in response to Ray Alert #7 about National Public Radio coverage of Ray’s campaign, which you can hear or read here:
For more information on the Ray Campaign see:
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