Dr. Ross Ellenhorn’s response to Dr. Tia Powell’s article on the Abilify MyCite pill

Smart pill

Responding to “The ‘smart pill’ for schizophrenia and bipolar disorder raises tricky ethical questions” By Tia P. Powell on December 5, 2017.

I couldn’t agree more with Dr. Tia Powell’s sensitive comments on the new Abilify MyCite Pill implanted with a tracking device. I would add a few more points and emphases to her concerns.

First, I’d like to underscore the point that everyone in our society has the right to ingest what he or she chooses. Being coerced to put any substance in your body is tantamount to violence.

Second, most psychotropic meds can take a significant physical toll on people who use them. Abilify is one of these. When we coerce someone to take this medication, we are pressuring them to ingest something that could seriously harm their body.

Third, not only can MyCite pills lead to more coercive modes of treatment, they are clearly oriented towards a severe violation of a person’s right to privacy. They are a threatening, invisible form of surveillance.

Fourth, coercion simply doesn’t work. Increasingly, we are finding that people get better in collaborative — not coercive – relationships. We see that people take their wellness into their own hands only when treated as partners in their care.

Last, the notion that the brains of psychiatric patients remain permanently damaged without meds is more a hypothesis than a fully researched fact. That hypothesis can become a dangerous narrative, in which coercion is justified in the name of help.

Over fifty years ago, French philosopher Michelle Foucault described how modern power is driven by surveillance. No longer do we punish bodies; rather, we discipline through our gaze. The ultimate example of this was the Panopticon, a tower in the middle of prisons in which guards, unseen by prisoners, watched everyone. Since that time, and in large part due to the effects of medicine (both positive and negative), we’ve seen a rapid emptying of our psychiatric hospitals, and a greater respect for the rights of psychiatric patients. The MyCite pill is a major step backwards in this process, and a giant step forward for the forces of coercion that remain. Each pill: a nano-Panopticon placed inside the body.