March 06, 2007
THE CIVIL UNIONS BILL INVESTIGATE: April 04
The Civil Union Bill is be-ing promoted as reasonable legislation, to rectify civil rules and regulations that allegedly discriminate against homosexuals and lesbians. Many New Zealanders, including senior politicians from other parties, are supportive, believing that the issue is about recognizing modern diversity and civil rights.
They would be probably unaware that overseas, particularly in Australia and America, certain gay activists and academics are telling gay communities that the real object is a social revolution to destroy the traditional family.
New social structures of marriage will enable sexual expression based on individuals, couples and groups. The latter is called "polyamory".
What’s polyamory? Well, that’s what this story is all about…as BERNARD MORAN reports:
How things change. Not too long ago, the idea of same-sex marriage seemed ridiculous. Now its proponents are on a roll across the western world, and it’s their adversaries, the "homophobic" defenders of traditional marriage, who are struggling to hold back the tide.
In retrospect, human rights legislation provided the essential platform for all that was to come. An end run can be taken around the mass of public disapproval, centuries of history and world-wide practice, through a successful appeal on the grounds of discrimination.
Especially when human rights legislation is amended by Parliament to ban discrimination on the ground of sexual orientation.
In April 1917, Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin arrived aboard a sealed train at Petrograd station. The epitome of the professional revolutionary, Lenin came armed with a political agenda Marxist Leninism, the will to carry it out, and a strategy to prevail over opposition.
Christchurch MP, Tim Barnett, the architect of the Civil Union Bill and legalised prostitution, arrived in New Zealand in 1991, armed with an agenda and strategy to advance gay rights.
His website profile (found on the web at www.timbarnett.org.nz) and interview in the gay paper Express (10th May, 2001), reveals a consummate, professional social revolutionary.
In his early 20s, Tim Barnett, involved with the British Labour party, worked as a voluntary sector manager, specializing in strategic and project development, marketing and media. From 1982-1989, he was co-organiser and then chairman of the National Association of Volunteer Bureaux.
His key appointment was as the founding Executive Director of the Stonewall (Lobby) Group 1989-1991.
To appreciate the expertise that Tim Barnett brings to the promotion of his Civil Union Bill, we need to take a closer look at what Stonewall represents. But first, here is how Stonewall got its name.
Robert Knight in his 1998 book, The Age of Consent: The Rise of Relativism and the corruption of Popular Culture (Spence Publishing Co, Dallas), writes on page 47:
"In 1969, the Stonewall rebellion signalled the beginning of the official Gay Liberation Movement. A New York bar catering to drag queens and ‘chicken hawks’ (homosexual men who seek underage male partners), the Stonewall Inn was also a haven for drug dealing. When the police began to question some of the patrons on June 27th, 1969, the bar patrons – many of them drag queens – responded by rioting.
"It was the first ‘mass resistance’ against the establishment by homosexuals, and it serves today as their sacred totem, with gay pride parades and numerous rites, held annually on the Stonewall anniversary. Few gay activists, most of whom deny that paedophilia plays any part in the homosexual ‘community’, acknowledge that Stonewall was known as a meeting place for paedophiles."
Investigate readers with PCs can key in www.stonewall.org.uk and see for themselves, how professional and effective Stonewall is in Britain.
Under a "Brief Overview of Stonewall", we read: "Stonewall was founded in 1989 by women and men who had been active in the struggle against Section 28 of the Local Government Act (more on that later). Their aim was to create a professional lobbying group that would prevent such attacks on lesbians, gay men and bisexuals ever occurring again – and to put the case for equality on the mainstream political agenda, by winning support within all political parties."
"Our lobbying work remains important today, but our activities have expanded considerably. We promote new research (for example on discrimination in the work place, homophobic violence and sex education) and have taken test legal cases that graphically challenge inequality (e.g. on the age of consent and lesbians and gays in the armed forces). We have also successfully mobilized thousands of individuals around the country to campaign on our behalf, most notably in the run up to the votes on the age of consent and Section 28 in Parliament."
Stonewall initiates policy development:
· "carrying out research, publishing briefings and working with government, trade unions, business, NGOs and policy institutions.."
· "Cultural and attitudinal change: challenging the underlying cultural and attitudinal values that allow discrimination to flourish. Changing cultures and attitudes to positively value diversity."
· "Lobbying for legal change: campaigning to ensure legislation is non-discriminatory and that the diversity and value of LGB (gay, lesbian and bi-sexual) life is appropriately recognized in our own laws."
Tim Barnett played a leading role in the bitter fight to repeal Section 28 of the 1982 British Education Act. A detailed account of the struggle was written by Stephen Green, head of the Conservative Party Family Association, in his book The Sexual Dead End (Broad View Books, London, 1992).
Section 28 forbade the promotion of homosexuality during sex education classes in United Kingdom schools.
Green describes (p 348-349) how "The Stonewall Group published a ‘Homosexuality Equality Bill’ based on a manifesto agreed by the Campaign for Homosexual Equality and the National Council for Civil Liberties. The central aim was the overturning of the idea that lesbian and gay sexuality is unlawful or immoral.
Draft legislation prepared for the Labour Party began by declaring: "That homosexual sex acts, whether between women or between men, are in no way inferior from the standpoint of public morality, or policy, or the public interest, to heterosexual sex acts."
"All three manifestos, the Labour, the Liberal Democrat and the Stonewall, believe that children should be taught in the classroom that homosexuality is equally as valid as heterosexuality."
The manifestos included a new offence of "incitement to hatred (or violence) on the grounds of sexual orientation." This measure would proscribe the ability of Christian churches and other religious faiths, to make public statements, or publicly oppose aspects of the homosexual agenda. More on this later.
Stonewall lobbied hard for the legal age for consent to be lowered to 16. Stephen Green commented that prosecutions would be unlikely for sex with 15 and 14 year-old boys, on the grounds that they would be considered borderline cases, because of the difficulty in proving that the accused knew the boys were underage.
Green writes that although Stonewall was then unsuccessful in repealing Section 28, its ability in public relations and marketing "Proud to be Gay", "transferred any stigma from homosexuals to the bigoted opposition. Homosexuals were no longer sick or perverted. What was sick, was the homophobic opposition to homosexuality."
Commenting on the homosexual agenda, Green wrote: "The homosexual movement simply measures all things, by the standard of whether or not, they promote homosexuality for the homosexual."
In 1991, Tim Barnett and his partner, the Very Reverend Jonathon Kirkpatrick arrived in New Zealand. The Reverend Kirkpatrick had been appointed Dean of St Paul’s Anglican Cathedral in Dunedin.
By 1991, Barnett was working for the AIDS Foundation in Christchurch, then coordinator for the Christchurch Community Law Centre and enjoying rapid progress within the Labour Party: chair of Christchurch Central Electoral Committee, then regional representative on the NZ Council of the Party.
Selected as the Labour candidate for Christchurch Central in August 1995, he became an MP in October 1996. Tim Barnett was soon in positions of power consistent with his Stonewall experience and agenda: Labour Spokesperson on Human Rights, Private Secretary to the Ministry of Justice on human rights issues, Chair of the Justice and Electoral Select Committee.
For their 10th May, 2001 issue, the gay newspaper Express invited Tim Barnett to outline his objectives for the future. Here are his key points:
· "We will not have a queer-friendly government forever. I believe there is a real urgency to completing the equal-rights agenda, so that moving backwards becomes totally unthinkable and untenable, so that over ensuing generations, attitudes can finally come right."
· "We know much more than most about what Government could do and is doing, and we have the luxury of being full-time stirrers."
· "As queer politicians, our mission is to deliver equal rights under the law, and ensure that the Government machine is working for our community."
Under "unfinished business", Mr Barnett listed his agenda:
· "Recognition of our relationships, offering the same rights that marriage confers (I am currently working on a civil union model).
· "Access to marriage as an additional option to civil union."
· "Comprehensive action to make all our school environments safe for young people coming out as queer. That should include access to counselling, protection from discrimination by staff, or fellow students – and inclusion of relevant studies in the curriculum."
· "Recognition in law of the existence and absolute unacceptability of homophobia (and other forms of hate), as a motivating factor in criminal acts."
Prime Minister Helen Clark told the Express newspaper (21 June, 2001) that although she had not seen a draft of the bill, "I did encourage Tim to take up the issue."
Given the Prime Ministerial green light, Tim Barnett established an advisory group of mainly gay people to develop a concept that would allow homosexual partnerships to be officially registered, without altering the status of marriage.
The group’s proposal applies to heterosexual and gay couples, who would be able to have their relationship registered and acquire similar rights to married couples.
Tim Barnett’s case is cogently argued in a comprehensive backgrounder on his website (www.timbarnett.org.nz). He approaches the issue from a human rights angle:
"In New Zealand, same-sex couples cannot legally get married, or access the rights that come with marriage. When a couple get married, they automatically receive over 100 different statutory entitlements. Because same-sex couples cannot get married, they cannot access these entitlements. This is discrimination."
"Generally, New Zealand’s laws do not recognize the existence of same-sex couples. Same-sex partners are not ‘next of kin’ or ‘family’, according to most of our laws. This can have a devastating impact on people’s lives."
"There are countless stories from all around New Zealand, of people experiencing horrific situations and hardship because of the current relationship laws and their effects. For example, there are many distressing stories of people not being able to see their partner in hospital, because they are not considered to be ‘family’. Because of these effects, it is important that New Zealand’s laws are changed, so that they do recognize the existence of same-sex couples."
"Because same-sex couples cannot legally get married, they do not have the choice of publicly expressing their commitment. The legal effect of this is that same-sex couples are considered ‘legal strangers’, even if they have lived together for twenty or more years. The social effect is that bisexual, lesbian and gay people are treated like second-class citizens, and their relationships are denied the dignity of being socially recognized. This has negative effects upon individuals’ health, self-esteem and relationship stability."
Tim Barnett explains that civil unions will be another form of relationship recognition that exists alongside marriage. "But unlike marriage, civil unions will be available for all couples. Civil unions won’t be based on religion, or other traditional ideas about ‘couples’."
"Civil unions will be a modern relationship model for the 21st century, with a secular (non-religious) basis. What they will mean socially will depend on us – society. We have the challenge of being pioneers and developing social meanings and status around ‘civil unions’."
Married couples have over a hundred statutory entitlements, conferring legal benefits, protections and obligations. De facto couples have over thirty, while same-sex couples have only nine.
According to Tim Barnett, the Government’s approach is to change each law on a case-by-case basis, as it updates old laws. It is "tagging on" relationship recognition to law reform issues like guardianship, adoption and property division. "But this is an unrealistic, inefficient and messy way to give same-sex couples equal rights. There are many minor or trivial laws that they won’t bother to amend just to include same-sex couples."
"What we propose in the Civil Union Bill is to change all the statute books in one go, by saying that every time the words ‘spouse’, ‘wife’, ‘husband’, or ‘de facto couple’ appear, they should be read to include same-sex couples. This will make sure that all the laws comply with the Bill of Rights Act, and the Government isn’t in breach of our human rights in terms of equal treatment. This is an efficient one-step law change that means we won’t have to argue for same-sex inclusion, every time a law is debated in Parliament."
On adoption, Tim Barnett argues that there is no objective data to suggest that same-sex parents are any better or worse than different-sex parents. Most recent, reliable studies have stated that same-sex parents are just as likely to be good parents as different-sex couples are. Under the Bill of Rights Act, the Government would need to demonstrate, using objective data or reasons, how it could justify excluding same-sex couples from adopting. We don’t think that they could."
The problem with Tim Barnett’s "recent, reliable studies", is that most have been carried out by same-sex people and tend to be self-serving. He overlooks the wealth of evidence indicating that fathers and mothers play vital roles in rearing children. Adopted children deserve to have the experience of both a father and a mother.
Example: an in-depth research project carried out in the 1990s, on teenagers reared by lesbian women. They confided to the researchers that they loved their mothers and their partners, but were profoundly disturbed and distressed by their sexual activities. Out of loyalty to their "parents", the children internalized their distress and never spoke of it.
How will couples register their civil union? The only legal requirement will be to sign a register at the Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages and be issued with a certificate.
If couples separate for more than two years, they will be able to dissolve their civil union. The same "divorce rules" will apply as for marriage, meaning that there will be a two-year stand down between separation and dissolution. The Property Relationship Act of 2001, will cover how property is divided between civil union couples, if they separate or one dies.
David Benson-Pope, the new Associate Minister of Justice will introduce the two pieces of legislation into the House. The Civil Unions Bill is modeled on the Marriage Act, but substitutes the words "civil unions" for marriage and covers homosexual as well as heterosexual relationships.
The second, the Legal Recognition of Relationships Bill, will seek to amend 1,000 provisions in some 120 different pieces of legislation. The terms "marriage", "husband" and "wife", will disappear from the statute books and ensure that civil unions will have identical benefits to those who are married.
The stated purpose is to ensure that discrimination based on marital status is eliminated in compliance with the Human Rights Act. A similar right is contained in the NZ Bill of Rights Act.
The question remains that once the areas of discrimination have been eliminated, what happens to the idea of marriage itself.
Maggie Gallagher is the editor of MarriageDebate com and the co-author of "The Case for Marriage". In her article "What Marriage is For", published in The Weekly Standard (4th August, 2003), she writes:
"The problem with endorsing gay marriage is not that it would allow a handful of people to choose alternative family forms, but that it would require society at large to gut marriage of its central presumption about family, in order to accommodate a few adults’ desires."
"The debate over same-sex marriage then, is not some sideline discussion. It is the marriage debate. Either we win – or lose the central meaning of marriage. Same-sex marriage would enshrine in law a public judgment that the desire of adults for families of choice, outweighs the need of children for mothers and fathers. It would give sanction and approval to the creation of motherless or fatherless family as a deliberately chosen ‘good’. It would mean that the law was neutral as to whether children had mothers and fathers. Motherless and fatherless families would be deemed just fine."
"Redefining marriage so that it suits gays and lesbians, requires fundamentally changing our legal, public, and social conception of what marriage is, in ways that threaten its core public purpose."
What lies beyond civil unions and same-sex marriage?
In America, some gay-rights advocates are predicting that civil unions and same-sex marriage, have the scope to completely redefine marriage and its meaning.
For example, Patti Ettelbrick, former leader of the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund says: "Being queer is more than setting up house, sleeping with a person of the same gender, and seeking state approval for doing so. Being queer means pushing the parameters of sex and sexuality, and in the process transforming the very fabric of society."
Michelangelo Signorile, homosexual activist and writer argues that the goal of homosexuality is to: "fight for same-sex marriage and its benefits and then, once granted, redefine the institution of marriage completely, to demand the right to marry, not as a way of adhering to society’s moral codes, but rather to debunk a myth and radically alter an archaic institution. The most subversive action lesbians and gay men can undertake, is to transform the notion of ‘family’ entirely."
Gay commentator Andrew Sullivan, has said that the "openness" in many gay relationships would in reality fortify heterosexual marriages by allowing straight couples to see that adultery doesn’t necessarily destroy a marriage. Once gay "marriage" is allowed, the faithful nature of traditional unions will be transformed for the better.
Which brings us to the concept of polyamory. Once civil unions and marriage between same-sex couples are legalized, it could be argued that limiting the relationship to two people is discriminatory. Since the procreation and rearing of children by a mother and father, is no longer recognized by the state as a preferred relationship, or for the greater good of society, there is no reason apart from convention to limit the union to two people.
Stanley Kurtz, writing in the Weekly Standard (August 4th, 2003) "Beyond Gay Marriage: the road to polyamory", predicts that marriage will be transformed into a variety of relationship contracts, linking two, three, or more individuals, in every conceivable combination of male and female. Polyamory is about group marriage, and already in the United States, a network of grass-roots organizations advocating legal recognition, is being supported by a powerful faction of family law specialists.
"Influential legal bodies in both the United States and Canada, have presented radical programs of marital reform. Some of these proposals go so far as to suggest the abolition of marriage."
Kurtz says that the modern polyamory movement took off in the mid-nineties, partly because of the growth of the Internet, but also in parallel and inspired by the rising gay marriage movement.
"Unlike classic polygamy, which features one man and several women, polyamory comprises a bewildering variety of sexual combinations. There are triads of one women and two men, heterosexual group marriages, groups in which all members are bisexual, lesbian groups and so forth. (For details, see Deborah Anapol’s "Polyamory: the New Love Without Limits", or look up the word polyamory on Google.)"
The flagship magazine of the polyamory-rights movement is Loving More, which advocates using the gay rights movement as a model.
However, as Kurtz reveals, there is a fundamental problem that just doesn’t seem to go away, and it’s called "jealousy". Apparently, polyamory websites are filled with chatter about jealousy. Inevitably, group marriages based on modern principles of companionate love, without religious rules and restraints, are unstable and children will pay the price.
"Once monogamy is defined out of marriage, it will be next to impossible to educate a new generation in what it takes to keep companionate marriage intact. State-sanctioned polyamory would spell the effective end of marriage. And that is what polyamory"s new and surprisingly influential defenders are aiming for."
"State-sanctioned polyamory is now the cutting-edge issue among scholars of family law. Promoting polyamory is the ideal way to "radically reorder society’s view of the family" says Paula Ettelbrick, policy director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force."
Quoting from a series of law professors, Kurtz notes they believe that legal and social hostility to polygamy and polyamory are decreasing, and that the increased openness of homosexual partnerships is slowly collapsing the taboo against polygamy and polyamory.
Part of the agenda is to render the distinction between traditional marriage and polyamory as "morally neutral".
Canada is further down the track than the USA. In 1997, the Canadian Parliament established the Law Commission of Canada to serve Parliament and the Justice Ministry, as an advisory body on legal reform. In December 2001, the Commission submitted a report entitled "Beyond Conjugality", which hinted at recommending the abolition of marriage. The authors admitted that the Canadian public may not be yet ready for such a step.
Tim Barnett is on record in Express magazine (10th May, 2001) as seeking "recognition in law of the existence and absolute unacceptability of homophobia (and other forms of hate) as a motivating factor in some criminal acts." His passion paid off when the Government adopted ‘hate crime’ provisions into law two years ago.
Canada provides a salutary lesson on what this can lead to when "sexual orientation" becomes part of the Human Rights Act. In the November, 2003 issue of Catholic World Report, there is a feature by John-Henry Westen entitled: "Religious Persecution Next? A new ‘hate crime law’ bars Christians from speaking out against homosexuality."
The Catholic Bishops of Canada were so alarmed by the implications that they issued a public statement: "What troubles us is the possibility that someone who finds the expression of the Catholic Church on sexual conduct too blunt, or too harsh, will invoke the Criminal Code to silence the teaching."
In Ottawa, a leading Catholic priest told a press conference: "Canadians are now seeing their precious country rushing into an era of ruthless religious persecution. They are witnessing their religious rights eroding before their eyes, and see Bill C-250 as the launch pad for a full attack on Canadian religious belief and institutions."
Other priests announced they were willing to go to jail, to remain faithful to the teachings of Jesus Christ. Toronto’s Cardinal Ambrozic warned that with the passing of C-250: "religion will soon need to be protected from the state. You risk your life for an absolute. There are things greater than us, for which we must be ready to die."
Sylvia MackEachern, editor of the Catholic publication the Orator, in a radio interview condemned the new AIDS curriculum intended for Catholic schools. She found herself under investigation by the Ottawa-Carleton Police Hate Crime Unit, and was let off with a caution.
WorldNetDaily carried a report on November 13th, 2003, about the Anglican Bishop of Chester, the Rt.Rev. Peter Forster, who was investigated by the Cheshire police for committing a "hate crime". In an interview with the Chester Chronicle, the Bishop said:
"Some people who are primarily homosexual can re-orientate themselves. I would encourage them to consider that as an option, but I would not set myself up as a specialist on the subject. That is in the area of psychiatric health."
The Times reported the Cheshire Chief Constable Peter Fahy, issued a public rebuke to the Bishop: "All public leaders in Cheshire need to give clear leadership on the issue of diversity."
After consulting with the Crown Prosecution Service, Cheshire police decided that the Bishop hadn’t committed a crime, according to a strict interpretation of the current law.
But this incident does serve as a warning to New Zealand church leaders who might criticize school sex education programmes that treat homosexual activity as equally valid and desirable as heterosexuality.
Prime Minister Helen Clark was interviewed at length by Express (11th February, 2004) and responded to this question:
Is the government worried about the level of homophobia shown by groups of the religious right like the Maxim Institute in New Zealand?
"We legislated against hate crimes. You just have to keep working over a long period of time on several values in society that does not condone that sort of attitude. I understand that over a long period of time, there has been a fundamentalist programme that runs on TV2 on a Sunday morning which is absolutely disgraceful. It is a very small minority point of view – and I think through continuing to set the tone of tolerance, acceptance and diversity, you just have to further marginalize such people. Hopefully one day, nobody will think that way."
Dr Michael Bassett, Minister of Health in the Lange Government and a historian, was interviewed by Leighton Smith on 24th February, 2004. He made this comment about Helen Clark and her inner circle:
"Their formative thinking was in the 1970s, and they have never learnt anything since. They impose their views on the bureaucrats, and they are in politics to force their 1970s views on the populace – and you’d better believe it."
Pope John Paul 11, once observed: "When absolute moral values are abandoned, then democracy becomes a matter of power and will."
But there is a potential solution to the Civil Union standoff: "Next-of-Kin" status.
In the United States, David Reardon of the Elliot Institute, has produced a concept that addresses the legitimate concerns of gay couples, and at the same time defends the traditional status of marriage and family.
Reardon’s proposal would allow any unmarried individual, regardless of sexual lifestyle, to designate the person who should handle their personal affairs, make health decisions when they are incapacitated, and have presumptive rights of visitation and inheritance, etc.
He argues: "A morally legitimate response to the legitimate concerns of homosexuals and other single persons, would be to pass legislation that allows easy designation or registration of a person’s chosen "next of kin", to whom all rights of visitation, power of attorney, etc, would attach. This legal designation of "next of kin", would override default transfer of these rights and duties to the closest blood relation, and thereby allow persons to designate any friend, "roommate", or professional advisor to be their most trusted confidant and beneficiary."
"This ‘next of kin’ designation avoids any insinuation that there is a ‘marriage’, or even a publicly recognized ‘union’ of the individuals. Yet at the same time, it gives single persons the right to establish a ‘family’ connection in a manner that is closely analogous to adoption. One might characterize the ‘next of kin’ designation as the adoption of a brother or sister to whom the legal rights of next-of-kin attach. The law could also provide for ‘next of kin’ certificates and ‘kinship severed’ (divorce) certificates."
Reardon acknowledges that most social engineer and gay activists will hate this solution precisely because it does solve the legitimate concerns of single persons. But by carefully addressing the legitimate problems they do raise, supporters of the traditional family can get out of their purely defensive posture and reframe the debate in ways that advance and protect the legitimate rights of both singles and married persons.
"In a society where families are often broken and dispersed, the right to designate a non-blood relation as ‘next of kin’ is a legitimate concern. When gay activists complain that next of kin designations are not enough, the response should be that they are sufficient to address the legitimate needs of all unmarried persons."
AROPAX NATION: A HARD HABIT TO BREAK, APR 2004
Are modern anti-depressants actually making people crazy? CLARE SWINNEY investigates the growing controversy over the side effects and withdrawal sympoms of the SSRIs:
Janet Frame touches on the association between doctors and patients in Faces In The Water, (1980) on page 28. ‘The doctor would pause sometimes to inquire, smiling in a friendly manner, but at the same time glancing hastily at his watch and perhaps wondering how in the hour before lunch he could possibly finish his rounds of all the women’s ward and get back to his office to deal with correspondence and interviews with demanding puzzled alarmed ashamed relatives.’ Although this was set in an asylum in New Zealand in between the First and Second World Wars, it bears a familiar flavour.
Propelled by a need for efficiency, psychiatry’s enthusiasm for symptomatic, push-button remedies, has led to life’s transient ‘symptoms’, such as forms of mild depression, to be clinically diagnosed and, once diagnosed, seemingly quickly alleviated, if not eliminated, by a pharmacological intervention. Many clinicians today consider it more practical, economical and speedier to prescribe medication than psychotherapy. But is dispensing tablets, such as the family of Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs), the best course of action for treating common ailments, such as mild to moderate depression? Or is it doing damage to those it is supposed to be helping?
Doctors have administered and prescribed a series of addictive drugs as sedatives for psychological distress since the early 1800’s, ascribing to the belief that they wouldn’t lead to dependence, and if they did, their patients were probably accountable in some way. Initially, there was opium and alcohol, then heroin, morphine and cocaine. Then in came the bromides, barbiturates and associated compounds. And an assortment of benzodiazepines ensued – including Librium and the iconic one, Valium, which was deceptively denoted ‘mother’s little helper.’
As a consequence of the relationships between governments, almighty drug companies, the medical profession and patients, it took over two decades of comprehensive use before benzodiazepines were accepted as addictive. When this occurred in the late 1980s, prescriptions for them went into sharp decline, but by then, thousands of addicts had been spawned worldwide, many for whom the sole motivation for continuing to take the drugs was that it was too distressing trying to cease using them. They were dependent upon them - in a similar manner some get hooked on drinking. It wasn’t an obvious addiction. Its effects were, for the most part, respectably concealed behind the white net curtains of suburbia. But the households were haunted.
A few weeks ago, an evening talkback show on Radio Pacific elicited calls from people who’d taken SSRIs, the antidepressants which soared in popularity when benzodiazepines lost favour. SSRI’s affect the brain’s ability to reabsorb serotonin, a neurotransmitter in the brain, which is supposed to affect mood, sleep and appetite. That night numerous people phoned the radio station. Said the program’s host: “We were inundated.” People related how difficult it was to come off SSRIs owing to a melange of atrocious withdrawal symptoms. Some divulging that they experienced anger, fierce rage and suicidal thoughts. A number regarded it as too difficult to give up, and regarded their medication as addictive.
Difficulties coming off the SSRIs are well documented. An Internet search of MEDLINEPlus using the search terms ‘SSRI’ and ‘withdrawal’ in combination drew out 278 entries and in Google, 51,900. Some experts stated that many patients, who go off the drugs, mistake their withdrawal symptoms for a return of the original symptoms they were using the drug to treat. They then commonly restart the medication. Other experts said that in many cases there may be a re-emergence of the symptoms people took the drug to alleviate, such as panic attacks for example, and that this was the deciding factor for some patients who restarted their SSRI medication.
Aropax, (paroxetine), which has a relatively intense impact and short duration of action, is associated with the most severe withdrawal reactions. It was approved for introduction into New Zealand in April 1992 and is now the most widely prescribed antidepressant in New Zealand - 209,054 prescriptions were written for it in 2003 alone. And this states Pharmac, the government-sponsored Pharmaceutical Management Agency of New Zealand, is in spite of it having come under scrutiny in Europe and North America, owing to reports linking it to an increased incidence of suicide and a heightened risk of dependence.
In 2003, the number of prescriptions for expensive antidepressants rose and cost taxpayers an additional $4.6 million from the year before. Clinicians’ preference for the SSRIs: Aropax, Fluox and Cipramil, over the old style of antidepressants, such as the tricyclics and monoamine oxidase inhibitors, accounted for most of this unwelcome gain.
One of the reasons for SSRIs popularity is that doctors do not regard SSRIs as addictive. Withdrawal from SSRI’s, such as Fluox and Aropax, can cause a range of unpleasant symptoms, such as dizziness, insomnia, virtual reality nightmares and headaches, but this in itself is not indicative of an addiction. According to Associate Prof Doug Sellman, a psychiatrist who specialises in addiction research at Christchurch, there is a crucial difference between a withdrawal syndrome associated with drugs taken for reward and attendant drug-seeking behaviour and a discontinuation syndrome from medications generally. He states: “There is no doubt that there is a discontinuation syndrome from SSRIs, such as Aropax, but not a withdrawal syndrome that will reignite drug-seeking behaviour.”
“Oh yeah?” responds Jane, one Auckland woman who tried to give up Aropax six weeks after starting. “By day five of climbing the walls, fighting the urge to kill yourself, fighting the urge to kill somebody else, feeling nauseous with the most horrific dreams I’ve ever experienced in my life – of course you go crawling back and start taking the drugs again! I suggest these doctors try taking these drugs themselves for a while, then try kicking the habit. Then you’d see their views change.”
Interestingly, a US clinician interviewed by Time magazine dismissed the link between SSRIs and suicides, saying a study of suicides failed to find evidence that an SSRI had been taken in the hours beforehand. But according to Jane and others, he missed the point - the suicidal thoughts come when you try to give up the drug, and you haven’t taken a pill.
Jane had gone to her doctor for exhaustion, and came away carrying a 20mg a day prescription for Aropax. When some of the side effects started to kick in after four weeks, she went back to the medic who decided to double Jane’s dose to 40mg a day. Things went from bad to worse - and the discovery that Aropax is one drug you can’t quit cold turkey.
“Once you’re on you can’t get off,” she says. “And that’s the most terrifying thing of all.”
The Diagnostic And Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th Ed., (DSM IV), is the clinicians’ bible. Amongst other things it categorises 307 different types of depression, other mental illnesses, the personality disorders, and substance abuse problems. According to this guidebook, ‘addiction’ requires at least 3 of 7 criteria to be met, (p. 181).
Offers Dr Alistair Dunn, a GP, who specialises in the field of addiction: “A withdrawal syndrome is but 1 of those 7 criteria. I don’t think taking an SSRI, such as Aropax, fulfils any of the others. And I don’t regard it as addictive because it may in some cases, require careful tapering off. If medication for blood pressure is stopped abruptly, a rebound rise in blood pressure can result, or in other cases, a return of angina may occur. Therefore, it must be tapered off slowly. But that doesn’t make it addictive. Addiction does not equal withdrawal syndrome. It’s much more complex, involving effects across a wide range of domains in someone’s life.”
A DSM IV diagnosis of addiction requires evidence of outright abuse. One of the 7 criteria assigned is self-destructiveness manifested in drug-seeking behaviour, such as visiting multiple doctors or driving long distances. Obviously, this would be most unlikely to occur with an SSRI, given that physicians readily prescribe and actively encourage their use. Asserts Dr Dunn: “It can sometimes take a long time for a GP to convince a patient to try a medication, even when the need is obvious to the doctor and the benefits are significant.” Dunn seemed quite annoyed this article was being written. “What about the benefits of the medication and the harm of someone stopping it because they have read an article stating it’s an addictive drug,” he queries.
A review of the medical literature on the SSRI withdrawal syndrome by Tamam and Ozpoyraz, concludes that the best approach for a doctor in dealing with patients experiencing withdrawal symptoms is to educate them, reassuring them that it is a reversible condition, while reinstating the original SSRI, and further slowing the rate of tapering off the drug. (Source: Adv. Ther, 2002).
Anna De Jonge of Hamilton is the Liaison Officer for the Patients’ Rights Advocacy Waikato Inc, (PRAWI), a group of 570, that advocates having will power over pill power. PRAWI’s principal aim is to empower people with information and knowledge. And it, amongst other activities, assists victims of medical misadventure to make formal complaints. Says De Jonge, who is opposed to the use of the SSRI’s because she says they’ve been associated with “suicide, murder, self-harm and mental turmoil,” if in time SSRI’s turn out to be no improvement on latter-day antidepressants, this will be owing to and in spite of the minimisation of the risks of taking them. “If SSRI’s were in some regard, drugs of dependence, but not being categorised as such, it will increase the element of risk of self-harm using them, and their effectiveness will naturally be over-estimated,” maintains De Jonge.
Is their effectiveness being over-estimated? Effectiveness of numerous drugs is. Although it’s seems baffling given the drug industry’s culture of maximum possible sales for maximum possible profit, Dr Allen Roses, an employee of GlaxoSmithKline, (GSK), which is Britain’s largest drugs empire, publicly disclosed that most prescription medicines don’t work on most of those who take them. Amongst those working in the pharmaceutical industry, this was no secret. Seemingly paradoxically, Roses, worldwide Vice-President of genetics at GSK, stated late in 2003 that most drugs only work in 30-50% of people - a substantial proportion prescribed some of the most expensive drugs do not derive any benefit from them at all.
Could this be a reason why the SSRI, Prozac, which is the most widely prescribed antidepressant drug in history, made a fortune for the company, Eli Lilly, yet couldn’t save the CEO’s own spouse? In May 1994, Mrs Marilyn Tobias, the wife of Randall L Tobias, chief of Eli Lilly, committed suicide. Tobias told a magazine in 1995 that his wife was depressed and had tried Prozac.
Prozac was approved for use in New Zealand in February 1988. Eli Lilly’s www.prozac.com website states: “…since its introduction in 1986, Prozac has helped over 40 million patients worldwide, including those suffering from depression…”. Yet, as Charles Medawar, who has worked in consumer protection in the UK and held appointments with the World Health Organisation, pointed out “there has been no discernible effect on suicide rates, since the start of the new war on depression.” Suicide rates in the USA, where SSRIs have been most used, and in England, provided no evidence of any national dose-response. (Source: ‘The Antidepressant Web - Marketing Depression and Making Medicines Work,’ in International Journal of Risk and Safety in Medicine, 1997, p.23).
And now the 24,500 or so anti-depressant prescriptions provided for treating children and adolescents each year in New Zealand are under scrutiny as researchers look for a possible link between SSRIs and suicide. SSRIs are not registered for use here in children, but some doctors prescribe them to youngsters. In Britain, authorities have advised doctors not to prescribe the SSRIs Lustral, Cipramil, Cipralex, and Faverin to young depressed people as clinical trials found a higher rate of insomnia, agitation, weight loss, headache, tremor, loss of appetite, self-harm, and suicidal thoughts in children taking the drugs.
For years, drug manufacturers and regulators in the UK and US maintained that antidepressants would reduce the risk of suicide. Perhaps most notably, Dr David Healy, Director, North Wales Department of Psychological Medicine, a psychiatrist with an international reputation, having authored 12 books and over 120 peer-reviewed articles, strongly disputes this claim. Healy has examined many confidential internal drug company documents, to which he gained access in his capacity as an expert witness in a lawsuit against GSK. These internal documents, Healy states, show the results of the company’s own clinical trials testing the SSRI, paroxetine (Aropax). The evidence, he alleges, shows that rather than reducing the risk of suicide, the drug increases it. He told the BBC that the evidence indicates that roughly 1 in 60 people who go on this drug makes a suicide attempt, whereas only 1 in 550 on a placebo or sugar pill do. Dr Healy says both the drug company and the regulators in the UK and US knew this data for 13 years.
At the heart of the problem, Healy believes is that SSRIs cause akathisia, a syndrome involving motor restlessness, and it is this that causes some patients to commit suicide. GSK’s own studies, and Healy’s, show that SSRIs can cause 1 in 4 healthy volunteers to become agitated. Healy, who is also involved in legal action against Pfizer, following the suicide of the 13-year old American called Matthew Miller, who hanged himself after taking the SSRI sertraline for a week, carried out a trial in healthy human volunteers comparing sertraline with Pharmacia’s Edronax, which does not work on the serotonin system.
The results showed that one third did not respond well to sertraline at all. Of this third, 2 volunteers became acutely and seriously suicidal just being on a normal clinical dose for 2 weeks. They were absolutely normal people. Healy claimed that the archives of the 2 companies contained evidence supporting his own findings.
In excess of 30 studies on sertraline carried out before the drug was licensed, showed that 1 in 4 people taking the drug became agitated. The healthy volunteer studies carried out by the company showed that about 50% of patients suffered withdrawal problems when they came off the drug. Healy claimed this suggested that some patients had become physically dependent on the drug. But instead of warning patients and doctors, he said the company argued that the patients with problems coming off drugs were suffering a recurrence of depression and needed to resume medication.
It can be difficult to conceive of what could be going through someone’s mind when they consider suicide. According to 31-year old, Ashburton mother of two, Diane Blakemore, of how she felt while taking an SSRI: “My life was totally miserable. I wasn’t living - I was surviving. I had horrific nightmares, usually quite satanic. Irrational fears on the drug, were the norm too.
She continues: “I would lie on the couch, too lethargic to move and felt suicidal, as I was highly anxious and depressed. My whole body had inner shakes, I was sweating all over and I had headaches and unbearable muscle tension. My nervous system was overstimulated to the max.
“I felt suicidal because I felt like this and really didn’t like it. I didn’t know how to handle it. The doctor told me to keep taking the tablets, saying that these side effects would go away after 4 weeks. But they didn’t.
“I’d never had any of these symptoms prior to taking the drug. I recently had a bladder and uterine prolapse with terrible backache as a result of giving birth, which made me feel very tired. And as my child had colic, I had to walk the floor, and this walking made my backache worsen. The longer I was on my feet, whether I be sitting or standing later, the worse the pressure and resultant pain would be. And it affected my legs too, as they felt heavy. My backache would ease if I lay down and I took my body weight off my sacrum - so I knew it wasn’t a psychological problem. And I was aware that prolapses might cause this pressure pain. But unfortunately, I just did what the doctor told me and took the medication for the ‘chemical imbalance’ I was told I had.” In this case, the chemical imbalance her doctor referred to was a diagnosis of depression. Blakemore wrote to members of parliament in March 2004 regarding her experiences. In her opinion the medical profession is too ready to categorise behaviour as indicative of depression and far too disposed to prescribe antidepressants.
As with the withdrawal syndrome, problems such as Blakemore’s SSRI experiences have been documented, yet SSRI popularity continues to soar worldwide. For example, in the UK in 1992, 500,000 prescriptions were written for SSRIs. A decade later, the figure was 15 million. Likewise, in 1993 in New Zealand approximately 50,000 scripts were written for SSRI’s and by 2003, this mushroomed to almost 450,000.
Investigate asked GlaxoSmithKline how many packs of Aropax - a drug subsidised by the government - they sold in 2003, in New Zealand. Neil Jarvis, the sales manager responded: “Unfortunately the information you have requested cannot be provided. As you appreciate, sales data is confidential and is not readily available from a majority of pharma [sic] companies.” While GlaxoSmithKline regarded this as classified information, it is in the public arena that in 2003, doctors wrote 203,636 prescriptions for Aropax and that the Ministry of Health paid $19,269,716 for it. Pacific Pharmaceuticals, which supplies the Prozac equivalent, Fluox, a drug which is also subsidised by the government, told Investigate that the company sold 193,000 packs of capsules in New Zealand in 2003. Each pack contains 90 capsules.
In light of the show-stopping number of these drugs being sold each year, it is little wonder the Radio Pacific talkback session on SSRIs became deluged with callers a few weeks ago. When the BBC broadcast a show on SSRIs in the UK in late-2002, it also received a huge response from viewers - 1,374 e-mails and over 5,000 telephone calls. A published medical paper presents an analysis of these e-mails and finds that 17% rated paroxetine as “very positive to worth taking”, 48% rated paroxetine negatively, from not worth taking to severely disabling, and 35% were uncertain, giving no or insufficient evidence of having taken the drug.
Investigate went to a pharmacy to take photos of SSRI packs. The pharmacist, who does not wish to be named, regarded the number of people he knew who were taking it as “sad.” Although not being handed out like sweets by the medical profession, because of restrictions, he knew of people taking it because their friends were.
According to Dr Jay M. Pomerantz of Harvard University, since antidepressants have severe adverse side effects, most patients stop taking them before they might have any positive effect. Investigate found evidence that SSRIs aren’t being swallowed according to doctors’ orders. A near full pack of Aropax was found in a skip outside someone’s apartment. A friend handed me 35 Fluox tablets to take photos of, saying he didn’t ask his doctor for anything for depression, but was prescribed them. He took the medication for 15 days, before deciding it more prudent to address the cause of his unhappiness. In addition, there were packs of Prozac 20 located at a relation’s residence, abandoned in a kitchen drawer.
It is not difficult to fathom that the medical profession is eager to promote these drugs’ use.
The British government is now cracking down on reckless over-prescribing of SSRI drugs, which are depleting public health care budgets. New draft guidelines from the UK’s National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE), the British government agency that decides which drugs should be available through the National Health Service, state that antidepressants are not recommended for the initial treatment of mild depression in adults “because the risk–benefit ratio is poor.” NICE will publish guidelines for the treatment of depression in children in 2005.
Investigate asked Pharmac’s Medical Director, Dr Peter Moodie, if there were any plans to curtail the burgeoning sum being spent on SSRIs here. Moodie advised that a cheaper source of paroxetine was in the process of being sourced, as the patent for the drug had expired. However, he said it would take some time before a cheaper, generic equivalent to Aropax could be obtained, as its producer is fighting tooth and nail to keep its market share. He said it would help reduce costs to taxpayers if doctors were more prepared to look at the basic causes of depression, before reaching for a prescription pad.
Do SSRI’s work? They inhibit serotonin reuptake. They inhibit the action of receptors on cells near neurons, thus making the serotonin stay in the synapse longer and consequently activate the next neuron for a longer duration than would otherwise occur. However, it is merely hypothesised that depression and anxiety are related to abnormal levels of serotonin and altering its effectiveness with an SSRI may alleviate the symptoms.
Depression, which, as mentioned, falls into 307 categories in the DSM IV, is also believed to be associated with abnormal levels of other neurotransmitters, such as norepinephrine and dopamine, which can, some experts say, be regulated by other drugs. A problem with prescribing the ‘right’ drug to treat depression, is that there is no scientific way to prove that a person has a low or high level of a specific neurotransmitter - so finding the appropriate drug for someone is deemed to be on a trial basis.
Ironically, while doctors continue to give SSRIs the red carpet treatment, numerous studies have demonstrated that drugs are not required to treat depression. Placebos or dummy tablets, such as disguised sugar pills, can do just as good a job. Indeed, numerous reputable studies have found that patients may respond to placebos, in much the same way they respond to antidepressants. One such study, a major government-funded study in the US, found that neither Zoloft, nor St. John’s wort are any more effective than a placebo in patients with major depression. (See: JAMA, Vol. 287, No. 14, April 10, 2002).
Similarly, research by a team led by University of Connecticut psychologist, Irving Kirsch, did an analysis of clinical trial data submitted to the US FDA for the 6 most widely prescribed antidepressants in the US, that were approved between 1987 and 1999. Namely fluoxetine, paroxetine, sertraline, venlafaxine, nefazodone and citalopram.
The group found that 80% of the response to medication was duplicated in placebo control groups. Thus, those who received only the pretend pills felt better to about the same degree than those who took the SSRI drug did. The average difference in improvement was only 2 points on the Hamilton Depression Scale, which produces scores up to 50 or 62 points, depending on the version used. The difference was so small that it was obvious the people got well because they expected to.
Kirsch et al concluded that if the drug affect is as small as it appears when drug-placebo differences are estimated, then there is little justification for the clinical use of SSRIs. (Source: ‘The Emperor’s New Drugs: An Analysis of Antidepressant Medication Data Submitted to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration,’ published by American Psychological Association, 2002).
These studies raise very serious questions about whether SSRIs should be the treatment of choice for depression -questions that seem to be falling on deaf ears.
A placebo poses no risk and costs next to nothing, and research findings have demonstrated repeatedly that they work as well as antidepressant medication. So why do psychiatrists prescribe expensive SSRI drugs despite the serious risks and side effects? The risks associated with highly prescribed antidepressants can be severe: in some patients they produce suicidal thoughts.
Investigate asked Pharmac if the many studies that have shown a placebo is as effective in treating depression as an SSRI, have influenced any decisions Pharmac has made? Dr Moodie said: “No. We are aware of those papers. How quickly doctors prescribe SSRIs is up to good medical practice. If Pharmac perceives that there is something obviously going awry in the prescribing of various drugs, then there is a responsibility to promote responsible use.”
Aropax is repeatedly advertised in full-page ads in the New Ethicals Catalogue, a handbook used by GPs to select medications, as ‘more than just an antidepressant.’ Indeed, SSRI antidepressants are advertised and prescribed as safe for a myriad of complaints that have nothing to do with severe, clinical depression for which they were approved.
Dr. Pomerantz notes that “SSRIs in particular, have replaced benzodiazepines as the drugs of choice when the physician is at a loss for what to do to get a patient out of the office.” And: “If what we are seeing is a pattern of widespread antidepressant prescribing for a multitude of subsyndromal, amorphous, patient complaints, it suggests that antidepressants have become the modern-day sugar pill, or placebo. It is quite likely that antidepressants have largely replaced benzodiazepines in this regard.” (Source: Antidepressants Used as Placebos: Is That Good Practice? in Drug Benefit Trends 15 (8), 2003).
If antidepressants are being prescribed as a placebo, New Zealand taxpayers are paying the pharmaceutical companies a ridiculously high price. It is a joke and a telling one. We would be misguided blaming the drug industry for this state of affairs. Effective corporate monsters like GSK and Eli Lilly exist to make a profit for shareholders, not to help provide premium health care for people. Providing good health care is the job of the medical profession.
When Coming Off Antidepressants:
Work closely with your doctor.
Taper the medication. Experts agree that the best way to avoid withdrawal side effects is to wean off the medication. By reducing the dosage in small increments, the brain can adjust to the change in chemical balance and slowly adapt to living without the drug. For some people, experts say, this process may take up to a year.
Get psychotherapy or counselling. While drugs can often mask problems, therapy can help address underlying causes. Psychotherapy is far superior to medication in the long term.
Exercise. Even if you don’t feel like it. Force yourself to. There’s strong evidence exercise plays a major role in lifting one’s mood and reducing stress.
Eat a healthy diet.
Laugh. Laughter is one of the best medicines.