Hospitals are not usually the targets of demonstrations. Health care is a controversial subject, but community anger is usually centred on funding issues.
So the Citizen's Commission on Human Rights' (CCHR) hundred-strong march on the Royal Melbourne Hospital on Saturday 31 July was already unusual. They were protesting the establishment of a centre for psychosurgery at the hospital. Psychosurgery is a specialised operation that involves cutting into the brain tissue to relieve the psychological problems of the patient.
But the Royal Melbourne Hospital denies that it has - or is intending to establish - any such centre. A hospital spokesperson told the Big Issue that there was 'no demand' for psychosurgery. She said that it had been at least two years since a psychosurgery operation had been carried out - and none are planned for the future. 'There have been a handful of cases over the decades,' she said. She said the hospital doesn't do lobotomies (the removal of tissue from the brain's frontal lobes).
CCHR spokesperson Pauline Priest said that they were 'quite outraged to find that this was still happening here in Melbourne when everywhere else in Australia it's been abolished. And not only is it still happening, [but] they're trying to make it the Asia-Pacific centre, so anyone in this region could be sending someone to Melbourne to have lobotomies and leucotomies.' She said that the CCHR would rather 'have them [patients] the way they are than destroy them more.'
'It doesn't help the patient at all - it's an atrocity that people can still do this. It doesn't make people better - it makes them vegetables,' she said. 'If you dismember the brain, the person's functions have to be interfered with, don't they? You can't cut into the brain and not have a bad effect.'
When told that the hospital denied having any plans to perform psychosurgery, Priest said: 'It's not the sort of thing that they publicise, because obviously there's going to be protests about it.'
The CCHR is widely regarded by anti-cult activists as a front group for the Church of Scientology, a religion established by the late science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard. While admitting that she and other members were Scientologists, and that the CCHR was originally formed by the Church of Scientology, Priest said that the group had 'nothing to do with the Church of Scientology - it's purely an ethical line that Scientologists are against psychiatric abuse.'
But The Big Issue got in contact with Priest by calling the Melbourne branch of the Church of Scientology. And the Australian contact address given by the CCHR on their website is the same as the Sydney branch of the Church. Furthermore, the CCHR website opens with a quote from Hubbard claiming that by the 19th century psychiatrists had 'infiltrated and influenced every law making body and government in the world. They had effected legislation entitling them to seize, injure or kill any person anywhere.'
It is secret Scientologist doctrine that much mental trauma is the result of the souls (or 'Thetans') that inhabit human bodies being tortured by an alien prince named Xenu, 75 million years ago. This doctrine is revealed only to Scientologists who attain a level of status known as OT3.