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Tue, Feb 15, 2000 - Page 3 News List

Lungfatang may face restructuring

PATIENTS' RIGHTS The Buddhist facility may be forced to send its patients to professional psychiatric care as required by the Mental Health Law

By Yu Sen-lun  /  STAFF REPORTER

Amid continuing allegations that patients are being abused, Lungfatang, a Buddhist-run facility in Kaohsiung county, found itself the target of debate again yesterday as legislators and officials said the government should intervene in what they called its "illegal" status and to protect patients' human rights.

DPP lawmaker Wang Shue-feng (王雪峰) yesterday held a forum decrying the existence of the facility and demanded the government take action to protect the rights of the patients in its ward.

"It is an embarrassment for Taiwan and we should not tolerate the problem anymore," said Wang, who was joined by Wen Jung-kuang (文榮光), a psychiatrist at Chang Gung Memorial hospital.

One feasible solution, said medical officials, would be to turn the religious facility -- now home to more than 600 mental patients -- into a legal nursing home. But the first step, they said, would be to allow professional psychiatrists access to the facility to begin assessing the medical status of the patients.

Tai Chuan-wen (戴傳文), an official from the Department of Health (衛生局, DOH) said the 20-year-old facility had violated the law by taking in mental patients without ensuring adequate professional care.

Tai said the Mental Health Law requires nursing centers to put mentally ill patients into "professional care." Administrators who fail to do so can be prosecuted and sentenced to jail terms of up to seven years.

Since the Mental Health Law was passed in 1990, no one at the asylum has been prosecuted for failing to turn schizophrenics and patients suffering from other illnesses over to professional care.

Tai said he has already been negotiating with Lungfatang's owner, Shih Kai Feng (釋開豐) and the chief of Luchu Township, over changing the status of the facility. He said the the asylum could become either a medical treatment institute or a social welfare service center.

"The former, which requires a minimum number of psychiatrists, doctors and medical facilities, is less feasible," he said.

One possible direction is to turn the asylum into a nursing home, he said. However, nursing professionals and doctors would still be required to be stationed at such a facility.

"Lungfatang should stop resisting modern psychiatry and medicine to take care of patients," said Lee Sheng-lung (李聖隆), a professor on medical law.

The asylum has allegedly been employing religious discipline and what the temple called "chains of compassion (情感鍊)" -- iron chains that bind two patients together -- to control them.

Patients are trained to work at a chicken farm run by the former temple, a business which has become not only the major source of income for the sanitarium, but the largest chicken farm in Taiwan.

Another challenge facing Lungfatang could be the patients themselves. According to Wen, who has done research on Lungfatang patients, 80 percent of its residents need professional treatment. If the asylum is to be legalized, Wen said, it would be forced to release all its diagnosed patients to professional sanitariums.

This could, however, bring immediate resistance from those running Lungfatang and the families of patients.

One woman, who claimed to be a patient's family member, said yesterday that she did not believe in medicine and psychiatrists. "They are of no use in treating my husband and I don't want him going back to the hospital," she said.

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