MOSCOW, FEB. 11 -- The Health Ministry's chief psychiatrist said today he expects 2 million people to be removed from the government's list of mental patients as part of reforms intended to prevent psychiatric abuse of healthy people.
Dr. Modest Kabanov acknowledged that in the past, some doctors decided "to send people to institutions, for instance, for reading Bulgakov's works or for reading Pasternak's verses and poems," referring to writers Mikhail Bulgakov and Boris Pasternak, who fell into disfavor under previous Soviet leaders.
"Of course, such mistakes will not be repeated," said Kabanov, one of four psychiatrists who spoke at a news conference. The official news agency Tass described the event as a news conference to discuss "blank spots in psychiatry."
Human rights activists have alleged for years that the Soviet Union uses psychiatric hospitals to incarcerate political dissidents who are mentally healthy. Britain and the United States considered trying to suspend or expel the Soviet Union from the World Psychiatry Association. The Soviets withdrew from the association in 1983, before the ouster drive was mounted.
Now, the Soviet doctors said they would like to rejoin. "We are ready to come back to the association provided the board and the association itself will be a working atmosphere and political activity will not be discussed there," said Dr. Alexander Churkin, chief psychiatrist of the Soviet Health Ministry.
The Soviets first began to detail psychiatric abuses in a newspaper expose in November. The article said arbitrary diagnosis, abuse of power and bribery were rampant in the psychiatric system.
Five weeks ago, the government passed a law under which a patient or family member may appeal involuntary commitment.
The four doctors admitted the lack of a strong legal code in the past resulted in mistakes in diagnosis and incarceration. But they skirted questions on the widespread use of psychiatry as a political weapon against dissidents, saying each case was different.