A Call to Action
Church Conference Takes Stand Against Aversives
by Rev. Coleen Brandt
In what may be the first instance of an organization outside the disabilities advocacy community taking a specific stand against aversives, the General Conference of the United Methodist Church voted at its April 1996 meeting to adopt the following Resolution:
A Resolution in Opposition to Abusive Treatment of Persons with Disabilities
WHEREAS a large part of the ministry of our Lord focused on persons with mental disabilities, and
WHEREAS persons with mental disabilities are children of God and are therefore our brothers and sisters within the human family, and
WHEREAS the full and equal rights of persons with mental disabilities are enshrined in the Social Principles of the United Methodist Church, as well as in the Constitution and laws of the United States of America, and
WHEREAS we note that the use of abusive treatment as "therapy" for persons with mental disabilities still occurs in the United States, and that such abusive treatment is used on both adults and children, and that programs which rely on such abusive treatments are usually funded by federal, state and/or local tax revenues, and
WHEREAS a number of organizations which advocate for persons with mental disabilities have already taken stands against abusive treatment,
BE IT THEREFORE RESOLVED THAT the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference of the United Methodist Church affirms the right of persons with disabilities to freedom from abusive treatment.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED THAT the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference of the United Methodist Church opposes the use of any form of punishment for children or adults with mental disabilities in any case where such punishment should be considered illegal, abusive, or unconscionable if applied to a child or adult who is not disabled. In particular, we condemn as unacceptable the following practices:
1) Treatments which result in physical injury or tissue damage to the person.
2) Verbal abuse or insult, humiliation, or degradation.
3) Denial of food, warmth, hygiene, contact with other human beings, or other necessities of life.
4) The use of electric shock or noxious substances as a form of punishment.
5) The use of any punishment on a child with a mental disability that would be considered child abuse of used on a child with no disabilities.
7) The use of physical or chemical restraint when the individual or others are not in danger of physical harm.
8) The threat of any of the above.
Any therapy used in the treatment of persons with mental disabilities must be potentially beneficial to the person. As an alternative to abusive treatments, we support the use of positive approaches in the treatment of persons with mental disabilities. Positive approaches affirm the humanity of persons with mental disabilities and recognize that the needs and desires of such persons are not significantly different from those of other persons. Our obligation to persons with mental disabilities is to support and assist them in their efforts to live lives as rich and rewarding as possible.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED THAT we call upon all public and private agencies and service providers involved in providing services to persons with mental disabilities to adopt and uphold the standards set forth in this resolution.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED THAT we call upon all federal, state, and local governments to end immediately the expenditure of public revenues on any agency or program which fails to adopt and uphold the standards set forth in this resolution.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED THAT the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference of the United Methodist Church declares itself to be open to persons with mental disabilities and their families, and commits itself to support such persons and families and accommodate their needs within our community. We further pledge our support to help persons with mental disabilities and their families find appropriate services, programs, and supports, and to protect them from abusive treatments.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED THAT the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference petition the next session of the General Conference of the United Methodist Church to adopt this resolution.
As delegates from across the country gathered in Denver, the Rev. Coleen Brandt, a member of the Autism National Committee and the mother of two young sons with autism, brought forth the resolution which she had first presented for adoption by the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference, and which now numbered among its co-sponsors the Methodist Federation for Social Action, the United Methodist Rural Fellowship, and the Northwest Texas Methodist Women. The entire text passed without opposition.
The United Methodist Church and many other Christian denominations have a tradition of issuing statements on morality and justice issues, as a way of both educating their membership, and sending notice to lawmakers and other policy-makers of the position of their membership on such matters. This kind of grassroots organizing has put religious people in the forefront of the Civil Rights and other movements working toward the fair and equitable treatment of all people.
"We have found, explains the Rev. Brandt, "that when most United Methodists are given the opportunity to learn about and discuss aversives, their first response is `Of course Christian people are against these kinds of treatments.' The tough part is convincing them that these tortures are still carried out in modern times. Once they have viewed the "Eye to Eye with Connie Chung" episode on BRI (Massachusetts' Behavior Research Institute, now called the Judge Rotenberg Center), or had some exposure to other literature on the subject, they are ready for action. The passage of these resolutions gives the stand against aversives the status of official Church teaching. However, the moral voice of the Church cannot make a difference unless advocates keep lifting it up as they face the principalities and powers that deny justice and well-being to people with disabilities."
If you would like more information, or if you would like to start a similar movement in your denomination or faith group, please contact Rev. Coleen Brandt at 542 Wesley Road, Springfield, PA 19064, (610) 543-3551 or on e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.