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Thomas Stephen Szasz

April 15, 1920 - September 8, 2012

Memorial for Thomas Stephen Szasz

Born in Budapest, Hungary on Apr. 15, 1920

Departed on Sep. 8, 2012 and resided in Manlius, NY.

Thomas Stephen Szasz, M.D., 92, died at his home in Manlius, N.Y. on September 8, 2012. He was born in Budapest, Hungary in 1920, and emigrated to the United States in 1938. He graduated the University of Cincinnati with an undergraduate degree in physics in 1941, and as valedictorian of the medical school in 1944. After medical internship at Boston City Hospital and psychiatry residency at the University of Chicago, he pursued psychoanalytic training.

Following military service at the United States Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, M.D., he began a distinguished career in 1956, as Professor of Psychiatry at Upstate Medical Center where he retired in 1990, but continued publishing until his death. He argued that what are called mental illnesses are often better described as "problems in living," and he opposed involuntary psychiatric interventions. His reputation in defense of these principles was launched in 1961 with The Myth of Mental Illness. He published 35 books, translated into numerous languages, and hundreds of articles in the subsequent 50 years. Recognized worldwide as one of the most important critics of psychiatric coercion and a defender of individual responsibility and freedom, Dr. Szasz was the recipient of several honorary degrees and many awards, including the Humanist of the Year, Jefferson Award from the American Institute of Public Service, Mencken Award from the Free Press Association, establishment of "The Thomas S. Szasz Award for Outstanding Contributions to the Cause of Civil Liberties" by the Center for Independent Thought, and the George Washington Award from the American Hungarian Foundation.

He is survived by his daughters, Margot Szasz Peters, M.D. (Steve Peters, M.D.), and Suzy Szasz Palmer, M.L.S., (Larry Palmer, LL.B.), a grandson Andrew Thomas Peters, and his brother George Szasz, Ph.D. Arrangements will be private. Contributions may be made in his name to the E. S. Bird Library at Syracuse University. 222 Waverly Avenue Syracuse, N.Y. 13224-5040


Kaddish for Thomas Szasz

By Jeff Schaler

It saddens me to write that Thomas Stephen Szasz died by his own hand on September 8, 2012, at his home in Manlius, New York, after a fall that occurred less than a week earlier. When he fell at home, he broke T-10, the tenth thoracic vertebrae in his spine, confirmed by a physician at a local hospital using x-ray. The hospital physician wanted to admit him and put him on what would likely have been a morphine drip, and proposed surgery to help heal the break -- there was talk about inserting a piece of plastic to hold the vertebral fracture together so it could heal, but Tom would have none of that.

I am not surprised.

He requested a prescription for pain medicine, and was taken to a pharmacy and then home by one of his closest friends. He was found dead a few days later when two other friends went to check on him. It is not known whether the prescription for pain pills is what he used to end his life. Apparently, he swallowed all of those pills, however, he always told me that he had a reserve supply of Seconal and other pills that he would use when he needed to take his death into his own hands.

Tom and I both agreed that the right to life includes the right to death, and that the state has absolutely no business regulating either, so long as the pursuit of liberty did not injure others directly. Tom told me that he was concerned about the effect his suicide would have on his daughters, seeing that their mother, Rosine, had committed suicide, too, after she and Tom were divorced, many years ago. Tom loved his daughters dearly. He loved his son-in-law Dr. Steve Peters dearly, too. And of course he loved his grandson, Andrew Thomas, very much. He frequently told me how proud he was of Andrew, and being a grandfather myself, I could easily relate and enjoy what he told me about him. Morris Chafetz, MD, another close friend of mine, killed himself with pills about a year ago. He used to say that "grandchildren were God's gifts to parents for not strangling their own children." I doubt very much Tom ever felt that way about his daughters, though I hesitate to agree with his idyllic vision of what at times seemed like a perfect family. All families are "dysfunctional," whatever that means.

I will not dwell on his death, it is his life that is important, except to say that over the twenty-four years Tom and I were the closest of friends, he always told me that he planned to end his life by committing suicide, if he was able to do so. "Autohomicide," as he referred to it in his books on the right to death.

I believe it is important to note that his fractured vertebrae was extremely painful. His decision to commit suicide was not an "ordinary" existential one, for example, "I've had enough of life, let's end it on a good note." The pain that comes from injury to the spine is no joke. I know because I have suffered for over seven years as a chronic pain patient myself, the result of failed spine surgery. I was forever grateful to Tom when I struggled for years with my own horrible spine pain, at first due to severe arthritic stenosis, then after surgery, due to having too much bone removed, I believe. Tom was always a major source of existential support. He was also the only friend of mine who guessed that I was seriously contemplating suicide myself because of the spine pain I was in years ago. That's WITH very strong narcotics and other drugs like Lyrica to try to reduce the pain. The writer Hunter Thompson committed suicide most likely because the spinal pain he struggled with was simply unbearable. It's hard for others to imagine let alone understand pain reaching such a level, WITH strong narcotics to palliate the pain, a situation where one who ordinarily rarely contemplates suicide, now seriously considers it as a viable/ethical option.

Tom's view on suicide was simple: The right to life includes the right to death. He always opposed "assisted suicide," and he was extremely critical of people such as Kevorkian and others who advocated assisted suicide, especially as some twisted practice of medicine. Suicide is an ethical issue. It is not a medical issue. And it is certainly not a public health issue, despite what U.S. Surgeon Generals say. (See Tom's response to Margaret P. Battin and Ryan Spellecy in Szasz Under Fire.) Tom always valued autonomy, and I knew there was no way he would ever end up in a nursing home, depending on others to take care of him, if he had any control over the matter. Obviously, he could have had a stroke, or some illness that would have rendered suicide impossible. I suppose he would have found a way even in that kind of situation. People often commit suicide by refusing to eat and drink, so where there is a will, there is a way.

Years ago, during one of our walks around the green lake near Manlius, New York, I asked him if he had written his obituary, we spoke openly about such topics. He looked stunned and I thought for a moment I had finally stepped over the line. Then he said, "Why, that's one of the nicest things anyone has ever said to me! No, I've not written one. I imagine The New York Times and other newspapers have one already written. Why don't you write one, Jeff? For the site." I said I would, if he really wanted me to do it, but thought it much more appropriate for his daughters and grandson to do so, depending on how long Tom would live. I expressed my concern about how many of our adversaries would likely take advantage of the opportunity to say critical things about Tom in their own obituaries and tributes, especially psychiatrists at the American Psychiatric Association who fancy themselves as experts on Tom's "flawed philosophies," for example. Ron Pies is one of the worst. (See Tom's reply to Pies, again in Szasz Under Fire. We tried to predict the worst that some people would say, and then decided there was very little we could do about it. Let the heathen rage. (Pies fancies himself an intellectual, capable of toppling Tom's ideas about disease. He's a legend in his own mind, as Clint Eastwood has said elsewhere.)

I'd stay in a nearby hotel when I visited him, usually two nights, and we said goodbye in the kitchen in his home. We hugged, and as I held his arms and he held mine, and we looked at each other, face to face, I remember saying "I love you, Tom." (The first time I said that to him, and he responded in kind, was after our first debatesdebates show at the HBO Studios in Manhattan. George Alexander was on our team, and the show was produced by Warren Steibel. Tom was clearly uncomfortable expressing his feelings of love so directly. I was not. He stumbled not knowing what to say for one of the rare times I remember, then said "I feel the same towards you."

I remembered how similar he was to my own father at that moment. I often struggled to understand the connection between my relationship with Tom and my relationship with my own father. Both were deeply affected by WWII and the rise and fall of national socialism. Transference is too easy an answer. Too simple an explanation. I keep it private as I still work on it.

I asked my father why he never told me that he loved me, as he was approaching death. Then he said "I L-O-V-E You." He was dying of complications from Parkinson's disease and it was difficult for him to speak at times. He would only spell it.

Tom did tell me that he loved me directly, several times after that first close time, and he began to sign his letters and email to me with the word "love" on a more regular basis. I mentioned this to my good friend Nelson Borelli, a very good psychiatrist in Chicago, and Nelson said "I am glad to hear that, Jeff, Tom is coming out of his cave." I am sure Tom signed letters at least from then on to his other close friends in similar ways. It appeared he was getting softer as he got older. If anyone could value autonomy too much, perhaps Tom did. He did not like to admit that he needed people, people like Ron Leifer, for example, someone who knew Tom longer than anyone save his own daughters and brother, and someone who knew Tom better than anyone.

I remember thinking that if there is anyone I would ever go into analysis with again, given the opportunity, I always said it would be Ron. I flew to Ithaca about two years ago to visit Ron in the hospital there. He had a terrible stroke, and while he has made great recovery progress, he is still very weak and limited in what he can do. His mind is still good, though.

When Tom and I considered someone to be the best of persons, we said he or she was a "good guy." Good guys were few and far between. It was the highest award we could bestow on others. (There is, in my opinion, one slightly higher, dismiss it as narcissism if you will, I cherish it and have it pasted on the wall in my university office. Tom and I were talking about something, I simply don't remember what it was, and in an email to him, frustrated to the hilt by the dishonesty and base rhetoric of too many university colleagues surrounding me, I wrote to Tom, not expecting an answer, "I am looking for an honest man." Immediately came the reply that I will always cherish.His email to me read, "Look in the mirror." I was deeply moved.

Tom always insisted that we regard each other as friends. He was never comfortable when I referred to him as "mentor." I remember how we first met. I had written an opinion piece that was published by The Washington Post in the 1980s, and I had come under ferocious attack by members of the "mental health profession." The editors at The Washington Post entitled the article something like "Therapy: Opportunity Fraught With Danger." It was not one of my better pieces, the editors had hacked it, not edited it, but it did make an impression, and a client of mine told me that it was pasted on the bulletin board at the Washington School of Psychiatry for all to read. (This was well before Ken Pope began writing about such relations for the American Psychological Association.) Not one person agreed with my criticism of psychotherapists who had sex with their "patients" under the guise of treatment for mental illness. (Tom often considered social workers among the worst members of the mental health profession, perhaps because they were such blatant servants of the therapeutic state, perhaps because, at least at the masters level, they seemed uniquely stupid, I just don't know. Very few seem to know much about thinking. Most are fluent when it comes to therapy gimmicks.) He and I once talked about what social workers did. He said, "they are the worst." I can see why. They have zero intellectual training. Some psychiatrists went so far as to call me a murderer because people with mental illness who needed help from psychiatrists would not go to a psychiatrist because of what I had written. Thus, their blood would be on my hands, wrote one psychiatrist. I said to my late wife Renee, "I'm going to see what this fellow Thomas Szasz thinks of what I wrote. If he says I'm off my rocker, I'll reconsider." I had called and introduced myself to Tom on the phone. The Internet didn't exist then. I asked him if he would give me his frank opinion of the piece. I can "hear" his voice now as if it was yesterday: "It is very kind of you to send it to me. I would be most happy to read what you have written." A week or two later came a reply. "I think it is absolutely excellent," he wrote. "Look, we cannot please all the people all the time, especially in this business!" I was pleased and the following year or two my students at American University invited him to come down to Washington, D.C. and address a class I taught at American University entitled Psychiatry and the Law. I was an Adjunct Professor then, at both American University and at Johns Hopkins University. I was happy they had invited him, however, I said I would be surprised if he came.

Sure enough, when I walked into class about two weeks later, one of my favorite students, Alex Taylor, came up to me and said "Hey, Professor Schaler, Dr. Szasz accepted our invitation!" It was a grand occasion. I remember looking out into the audience after Alex introduced me, and I introduced Szasz, in the auditorium at American University. I don't think any faculty or administrators came, just students. Todschweigen, as Tom taught me. "Death by silence." Todschweigen [Tod = death + schweigen = silence, thus "death by silence"] In the audience were my students, many psychotherapy clients of mine, my parents, my wife and daughter, Dr. Isaiah Zimmerman, who was my analyst for many years up until that time, and various friends. It was a strange experience. Everyone who was important to me in my life then was there.

I drove Tom back to the hotel he was staying at in Chevy Chase, Md., and he was talking with students and friends on the sidewalk outside of his hotel, for what seemed like forever. I was very tired and I wanted to go home. It was getting late. But first I had to say thank you to Tom, good bye and good night, only Tom would not let go of my hand. That's right. I reached out to shake his hand, thanking him for coming, and he would not let go of my hand. He held on to my hand for over ten minutes. I was smiling and laughing, flattered, and stunned. Above all, I was deeply moved. The rest, as "they" say, is history.

The next thing I knew he invited me to debate all kinds of people with him on public television, I did about sixteen debates broadcast all around the country as a result of Tom inviting me to be on his team as we debated psychiatrists, lawyers, and even the Attorney General of Kansas, Carla Stovall. We were debating issues in Kansas v. Hendricks, recently decided by the U.S. Supreme Court. George J. Alexander was often there with us, or Ron Leifer. George had defended Tom as his attorney when Paul Hoch, MD, tried to have Tom fired as a tenured professor, for writing The Myth of Mental Illness. The debates were formal, an hour long, broadcast on 176 public television stations around the country. I was very nervous when we did the first one, as Tom had told me it was just going to be like sitting around a table talking with William Buckley on Firing Line. After all, Warren Steibel produced Firing Line. I kept saying to Tom, "I don't know, Tom, when Warren called me, he described what sounded like a very formal debate. Are you sure we shouldn't prepare some statements?" "No," said Tom. He turned to my daughter Magda who accompanied us. She was in law school at Columbia at the time. "Your father is getting too nervous about this. Do something!" As we walked into the HBO studios in Manhattan, with minutes to spare, a formal debate was about to begin, all of our opponents had prepared remarks, we had nothing. I looked at Tom with an expression of slight horror, and he shrugged his shoulders and said, "let's go." We demolished the other side. What an experience.

We presented at a conference for First Nations Peoples in Edmonton, Alberta -- that was a big one -- and then there were so many things we did together I simply can't remember them all.

I threw an eightieth birthday party for Tom in Syracuse, with the help of my close friend and colleague, Nelson Borelli, MD, and Mantosh Dewan, MD, Chair, and the Upstate Medical University Dept of Psychiatry, gave the speech bestowing the George Washington Award on Tom for the American Hungarian Foundation at the Waldorf Astoria in New York city, and we had many more wonderful events and adventures together, memories I will always cherish.

I received the Thomas S. Szasz Award for Outstanding Contributions to the Cause of Civil Liberties in 1999 by The Center for Independent Thought, and then was equally honored and surprised when Tom nominated me for the Thomas S. Szasz Award "for Outstanding Contributions to the Struggle Against the 'Therapeutic State'", on February 25, 2006, in California by the Citizens Commission for Human Rights. I gave several talks before thousands of people for CCHR and they were always among the warmest and most generous and kind people I met on the Szaszian trail.

Our friendship grew deeper and deeper, and as usual, one thing lead to another. I became deep friends with Ron Leifer, MD, one of Tom's oldest and closest friends, Richard E. Vatz, PhD., an outstanding person who taught me so much about how to navigate through the treacherous waters of academia as a one hundred percent Szaszian who had emerged one hundred percent out of the psychiatric closet. Rick was close to Tom long before I was. Rick and I shared a deep respect not only for our relationship with Tom, but also for each other. I met Rick when he moderated a debate between Tom and Loren Roth, MD, at Towson University, many years ago. Later, Rick moderated a debate between E. Fuller Torrey, MD, and Tom. Rick was also responsible for having Towson University bestow an honorary doctorate on Tom. My late wife, Renee Royak-Schaler, was a professor there at Towson, and she told me of Rick's relationship with Tom. I brought a whole class of mine from American University to listen to the debate with Torrey.

More and more friendships developed through my relationship with Tom, and I will always be grateful for those great people he introduced me to, people we worked with in various ways: George J. Alexander, Warren Steibel, Roger Yanow -- official "uncle" in the Szasz family, Suzy and Larry and the best spaghetti dinner I've ever had at their home then in Ithaca, Robert Seidenberg, leaders at the department of psychiatry at (now) Upstate Medical University, Andrea Millen Rich, Sheldon Richman, Tony Stadlen, and too many people I've forgotten right now but people who deserve my deepest respect. As I remember saying at one event honoring Tom, while occasionally a teacher becomes a friend, it seems more rare when a close friend is clearly a teacher.

While Tom would not tolerate describing our relationship as anything less than a deep friendship, one simply cannot have a friendship with Tom and not constantly be learning about oneself and the world around us. And just to make sure that I didn't forget we were friends, Tom drove all the way down from Manlius, New York, to sit with my mother at my daughter's wedding in Chestnut Hill, Pennsylvania. As my mother said back then, "Tom is always a gentleman." And he never forgot to ask me to give his warmest regards to my mother after that weekend. My daughter's wedding was nine days before nine eleven. Just before the second plane hit the World Trade Center I called Tom from Silver Spring, Md. We spoke regularly together then, and said "quick, turn on the television." And we quietly watched the world change once again, together, on the phone, as the planes hit the buildings and the buildings came tumbling down. "This is history," I said. "This is war," I added.

In psychology that is called a "flashbulb memory." What a memory!

As owner and producer of "the Szasz site," I plan to post several items on this page in honor of Tom's life. I constructed and produced this web site as a public educational service in honor of Tom Szasz's life work. While everything I wrote for this site was done with Tom's approval, Tom always insisted that this site belonged to me, it was not his. While this never stopped him from expressing his opinion to me, he insisted that the public know that I own and produced this site.

The first links below are to several newspaper and blog obituaries. I may add others if they seem interesting.

The second two links are first to excerpts from my book Szasz Under Fire: The Psychiatric Abolitionist Faces His Critics (2004, Chicago: Open Court Publishers). Specifically, the excerpts are from the Introduction that I wrote, documenting everything that happened when Tom's book The Myth of Mental Illness was published in 1961, specifically the attempts by Paul Hoch, MD, Administrator of the State Department of Mental Hygiene, and others to have him removed from his tenured professorship at Upstate Medical Center in Syracuse.

I will add more material about that event and persecution, shortly. It is the only accurate historical account approved by Szasz. We worked on everything in that book together, and like many of his friends, I helped him with editing his books. Following the Introduction is the only autobiography written by Tom. Again, these are the only accurate accounts of critical periods in his life and I am pleased to share my work with Tom with others who will benefit from knowing the truth about what happened.

Following this is a link to a recent debate on www.cato-unbound.org that I was asked to write the lead essay for. It's about Mental Health and the Law, and specifically deals with issues concerning involuntary commitment to mental institutions. I've included this because it is the most recent example of a thought-provoking debate in which I believe readers will see how Jacob Sullum and I put Tom's ideas into action, especially in dialogue with an author of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, and a law professor at the University of Maryland.

If you want to use any of this material, you are welcome to do so, provided you cite the source appropriately: (2004). Schaler, Jeffrey A. (ed.) Szasz Under Fire: The Psychiatric Abolitionist Faces His Critics. Chicago: Open Court Publishers, for the excerpts from that books. Contact Jason Kuznicki, editor of cato-unbound, for information about the blog. The links provided below should give you access to all relevant information.

If you have any questions, feel free to contact me at Jeffrey@Schaler.net

The third link will contain some photographs you may not have seen before. Those will be up shortly. People have offered to send me photographs they took of Tom just for this memorial section of the Szasz site, and I am very grateful for their assistance.

Below these three links are the beginnings of tributes written by close friends and colleagues of Tom's. Other relevant materials will be added shortly. While the tributes are published by invitation, if you would like yours considered for publication here, please write directly to me, Jeff Schaler, at Jeffrey@Schaler.net

While many of us have lost a great friend and teacher, the world should know that there are many people, especially in academia, who will continue to teach students about the importance of Tom's ideas and how we may go further with them. While Tom's physical life is over, his ideas, the seeds he has planted, and the work he has done, is just beginning.

As Tom was fond of saying, "Nothing human is alien to me."

I will miss Tom dearly, as so many of us will. However, I will continue to teach his ideas, as I have done now to many thousands of students over the past twenty three years. The ideas that Tom enlightened us to, will hardly die as he has died. Quite to the contrary, his death only supercharges my desire and motivation to teach so many people in the world, about the relationship between liberty and responsibility. It would be a big mistake for us to think that with Tom's death comes the death of his work, his important ideas, the example he set. He was not perfect, none of us are. We can keep self-appointed engineers of the therapeutic state on their toes, if not on their knees. We owe it to our children, and to their children, to do so. There is no time like the present.

--Jeffrey A. Schaler, Ph.D., MEd




Mindhacks: Thomas Szasz Has Left the Building

"Thomas Szasz, Relentless Freedom Fighter, Dead at 92," by Jacob Sullum

Misunderstanding Thomas Szasz by Jesse Walker

Thomas Szasz: How and Why the Great Libertarian Psychiatrist Thought What He Did," by Brian Doherty



Introduction by Jeff Schaler and Autobiography by Thomas Szasz, plus important documents from the Appendix, from Szasz Under Fire: The Psychiatric Abolitionist Faces His Critics (2004)

Cato-unbound August 2012: Lead invited essay entitled "Strategies of Psychiatric Coercion," by Jeffrey A. Schaler; "A Clinical Reality Check," by Allen Frances; "Psychiatrists Create Their Own Reality," by Jacob Sullum; and "Calling Mental Illness 'Myth' Leads to State Coercion," by Amanda C. Pustilnik


III. Photographs (forthcoming)



Tributes and other invited contributions (more added daily):

From Dr. Richard E. Vatz

Tom Szasz was as likeable as he was insightful, which, per one of his favorite expressions, is "saying a mouthful." I shall never forget a conversation I had with him early on in our friendship, which had begun with my writing a satire called "The Myth of Death," for those who wondered if Tom could laugh at himself (http://www.szasz.com/vatzremarks.html): I merely said to Szasz, "Tom, I completely understand your argument that there is no pathological referent to that which is called "mental illness," but don't you agree that in lay terms there are people who are just plain crazy?

Szasz: "And how!"

Richard E. Vatz, Ph.D.
Towson Distinguished Professor
Thomas Szasz Civil Liberties Award
Towson University, Towson, Maryland

From Dr. Ron Leifer

I had the honor and privilege of having Tom Szasz as a teacher and mentor during my psychiatric training--

I read The Myth of Mental Illness in manuscript and discussed it with him in seminars--and we have been close friends for fifty years. Szasz told me he saw through psychiatry when he was a young man. He was the most intelligent, well-read man I have ever known. But his opposition to coercive psychiatry was very personal. He was never a patient except during his training analysis. He lived free choice. This was brought home to me last week when I had lunch with him in Manlius. I had a sroke two years ago. During lunch, I had a grand mal seizure. When it was over I asked him if I had a seizure. He told me I did and asked me if I wanted to go to a hospital. The staff of the restaurant thought I was dying and called an ambulance. Tom asked me if

I wanted to go to a hospital. I have been to hospitals many times during my illness and its complications, but no one had ever asked me if I wanted to go. They simply assisted me on to the ambulance stretcher without asking if I wanted to go and giving me a choice.

Tom gave me a choice. He not only wrote about and advocated free choice and criticized coercion. He lived by it. When the faculty tried to have him fired for writing The Myth of Mental Illness. Ernest Becker and I defended him. We resented him for many years because he never stood up for us. until we took responsibility for our actions and realized that it was our choice to take that risk.

So there are two examples of how Tom lived by free choice. It was personal for him because he grew up under the tyranny of communism in Hungary and valued the liberty and interiority of the individual.

Ron Leifer, M.D.
Ithaca, New York


From Jacob Sullum:

I first encountered Thomas Szasz's work as a psychology major at Cornell, where he was presented as a kind of antidote to everything else we were learning about mental illness. But this antidote was to be consumed only in tiny, homeopathic doses. Then as now, Szasz was portrayed as an iconoclast who brought some needed attention to the abuses of psychiatry but who went too far by insisting on a fundamental distinction between actual, biological diseases and metaphorical diseases of the mind. Yet Szasz's radicalism was in fact one of his greatest strengths, and today, as the American Psychiatric Association's list of mental disorders expands to include every foible and sin, his ideas seem more relevant than ever. Szasz's radicalism, in the service of his lifelong "passion against coercion," made me a clearer thinker, a more thoughtful journalist, and a more consistent libertarian. He zeroed in on the foundational fallacies underlying all manner of medicalized tyranny, including involuntary commitment, court-ordered substance abuse treatment, the mandatory prescription system, drug prohibition, "public health" paternalism, and laws against suicide. I will always be grateful for his courage and insight.

Jacob Sullum
Senior Editor
Reason magazine


From Dr. Tomi Gomory:

Simply put Tom was my intellectual father. Very early on in my social work career even before the academic portion of it, his writings helped me understand the deep injustices in psychiatric approaches toward the mad. In fact, I went after my doctorate because I saw the need for more voices to fight the battle against coercion and the medicalization of disturbed/disturbing social behavior that he so eloquently delineated in his writings.

We spent many wonderful hours in the last 14 years discussing these ideas often over a vodka martini or two.

A book to be published by Transaction Publishers in March 2013, "Mad Science: The Disorder of American Psychiatry" coauthored with two friends and academics, Stuart Kirk and David Cohen directly resulted from those conversations.

He set a very high standard for principled engagement regarding human freedom and respectful treatment of those in existential difficulties. I miss him terribly.

Tomi Gomory, Ph.D.
Tallahassee, FL


From Nelson Borelli, MD:

"I thought he died long ago; anyhow, who would listen to him." The professor's uttering is a metaphor for the tragedy: making believe that the body/brain has moral agency. That Thomas Szasz was his body. That once his body's physiology ceased to function, his morality would do likewise. Probably that professor, like many others, has dated Szasz's death to shortly after the publication of The Myth of Mental Illness.

Thomas Szasz's intellectual production is here to stay for a long time, regardless of how tenaciously the Mental Illness Industry (MII) closes its eyes to it. "REASON" is Szasz's flag. This is a person's reason, the uttered reasoning, executed publically as a moral act. He did it and how. Nobody can erase it. The MII's ad nauseum hammering on the brain to convert it into a moral agent with executive power will never work in reality. It will continue to work as a seductive tool to deny personal responsibility for our actions, at the cost of de-moralizing ourselves, a moral suicide.

It takes courage to read Szasz. Some do, reflect and demure as did Karl Menninger did in his old age (*). Many continue to avoid it while waiting for the Guardian Angel, for Godot.

The MII tries hard to herald the people, intellectuals included, into the world of darkness. Thomas Szasz tells us the light, the light that could save us from total extinction.

We will miss having terrene dinners with most gracious Tom. Let's welcome the courageous ones to join Szasz "disciples" in existential dinners with him while we are still conscious.

Nelson Borelli, MD
Chicago, IL

*Karl Menninger, M.D.
Reading Notes, Bulletin of the Menninger Clinic, Vol. 53 No. 4, July 1989, pp. 350-352.
(JAS note: See http://www.szasz.com/menninger.html for this letter from Menninger to Szasz, and Tom Szasz's reply to Menninger.)

October 6, 1988

Dear Dr. Szasz:

I am holding your new book, INSANITY: THE IDEA AND ITS CONSEQUENCES, in my hands. I read part of it yesterday and I have also read reviews of it. I think I know what it says but I did enjoy hearing it said again. I think I understand better what has disturbed you these years and, in fact, -it disturbs me, too, now. We don't like the situation that prevails whereby a fellow human being is put aside, outcast as it were, ignored, labeled and said to be "sick in his mind." If he can pay for care and treatment, we will call him a patient and record a "diagnosis" (given to his relatives for a fee). He is listened to and then advised to try to relax, consider his past sins to be forgiven, renounce his visions or voices or fits, quit striking his neighbor's windows with his cane, or striking his neighbor's windows with his cane, or otherwise making himself conspicuous by eccentric behavior. He tries.

For this service we charge, now. Doctors were once satisfied with a gift, or token, or sometimes just an earnest verbal expression of gratitude. Even if the treatment given was not immediately curative, the doctor had done the sagacious and difficult task of having approached the crazy subject and listened to him and given the condition a NAME, and a prognosis. (In fact, the latter was what he was a specialist in; treatment was really secondary.) You and I remember that there didn't used to be any treatments, just care and prognosis, "fatal," "nonfatal," "serious" "commitable," "nonpsychotic." Gradually empirical and chemical agents were discovered which seemed to alter something in the organism which was reflected in the customer's changed behavior. We accumulated a few methods that seemed to relieve the suffering of these customers, our "patients." We used prolonged baths, cold sheet packs, diathermy, electric shock, and there were all those other treatments of whipping, strapping down, giving cold douches and sprays. King George III of England was slapped and punched by the fists of one of his "nurses" who later bragged that he even knocked his patient, the King, to the floor "as flat as a flounder." And the King ultimately recovered but those treatments weren't outlawed. Added to the beatings and chaining and the baths and massages came treatments that were even more ferocious: gouging out parts of the brain, producing convulsions with electric shocks, starving, surgical removal of teeth, tonsils, uteri, etc.

Next someone discovered some chemicals that had peculiar effects on people who swallowed them. Alcohol was already well known and opium and morphine and heroin and cocaine; but Luminal was introduced and "Seconal" and similar pharmaceutical concoctions given names ending in "al" or "ol" (as in Demerol). These were regarded as therapeutically useful because they did dispel some of the symptoms and they made the patient feel better (briefly). No baths, no brain operations, no chemicals, no electric shocks, no brain stabbing.

Long ago I noticed that some of our very sick patients surprised us by getting well even without much of our "treatment." We were very glad, of course, but frequently some of them did something else even more surprising. They kept improving, got "weller than well" as I put it, better behaved and more comfortable or reasonable than they were before they got into that "sick" condition. We didn't know why. But it seemed to some of us that kind of the "sickness" that we had seen was a kind of conversion experience, like trimming a fruit tree, for example.

Well, enough of those recollections of early days. You tried to get us to talk together and take another look at our material. I am sorry you and I have gotten apparently so far apart all these years. We might have enjoyed discussing our observations together. You tried; you wanted me to come there, I remember. I demurred. Mea culpa. Best wishes.

Karl Menninger, M.D.


From Dr. Keith Hoeller

From: khoeller@comcast.net
To: schaler@american.edu
Sent: Thursday, September 13, 2012 4:00:57 PM
Subject: Thomas Szasz: In Memoriam by Keith Hoeller
Thomas Szasz: In Memoriam

Dr. Keith Hoeller, Editor
Review of Existential Psychology & Psychiatry
Seattle, WA

While Thomas Szasz has died, his ideas still live on and ensure him a place in the pantheon of human liberators along with Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison, Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Abraham Lincoln, Mahatma Ghandhi, and Martin Luther King, Jr. Szasz's fundamental ethical principles were those of medicine itself: 1) patient autonomy, 2) informed consent, 3) first, do no harm, and 4) patient confidentiality. Doctors should treat only known diseases of the body and doctors who tell healthy people they are sick and then treat them are charlatans.

In the fifty years since, mental illness is still a myth. While diseases of the body have causes, human behavior is chosen. Brains can be ill; minds cannot be sick. With the advent of the mandatory use of the psychiatric diagnostic bible (the DSM) and treatment paid by both private and state insurance, the field has become even more medicalized than ever before. TV advertisements suggest that people who suffer from what Szasz said were "problems in living" really suffer from "chemical imbalances" in the brain.

People who are labeled schizophrenic, for example, have never been proved to have anything wrong with their bodies or brains. And if in fact someday someone should discover that some of these people suffer from a previously unknown disease, they will be treated by regular doctors, not psychiatrists. Once the "madness" in some late stage syphilitics was found to be caused by a bacteria, regular doctors became the first line of treatment.

Szasz's lifelong opposition to the twin pillars of psychiatry--involuntary treatment and the insanity defense--will continue though others will have to take up his mantle. As Szasz said forty years ago in The Manufacture of Madness, the mental health movement is our own modern inquisition in which the souls of cultural heretics are cured through the purging of their thoughts by forced therapy and chemical straight jackets. Modern psychiatry has its own modern "ordeals" and "trials."

Though Tom Szasz, the man, may have left us, Tom Szasz, the idea of human freedom, lives on. Though his smiling face, hearty laugh, and sense of humor have reached their bodily end, his mind, through his books and ideas, is eternal.

Tom Paine was called "the citizen of the world." Tom Szasz can rightly be called "the citizen of humanity." There are too few of us who have devoted our entire lives to fighting man's inhumanity to man. Tom Szasz was one of those few, and he now joins the rest of those freedom fighters who belong to history, past, present, and future.


From Dr. Ron Roberts

From: Ron Roberts [mailto:r_a_roberts@btinternet.com]
Sent: Saturday, September 15, 2012 5:27 PM
To: Jeffrey@Schaler.net
Subject: Tom Szasz

Dear Jeffrey

I've just learned of Tom Szasz's death. I've been corresponding with Tom for the past 3-4 years and had the good fortune to meet him during his trip to London last year. I have been profoundly influenced by his ideas and count him amongst the few good guys in the history of the behavioural sciences, both morally and intellectually. I also thought he had a great sense of humour. Please pass on my good wishes and condolences to his friends and family. I feel sad that Tom is no longer with us so the task, as before, is to put his ideas to work in challenging the ills in psychiatry and psychology.

With Best Wishes

Ron Roberts

PS: I've attached an article about Tom's work I had published in The Psychologist a couple of years ago. Feel free to use on your site.
Dept of Psychology
Kingston University
London UK

Click here Madness, Myth and Medicine by Dr. Ron Roberts to open the pdf file that Dr. Ron Roberts sent as part of his tribute to Tom Szasz. The file is called ronrobertsinthepsychologist.pdf . The article is entitled "Madness, Myth and Medicine." It appeared in The Psychologist, Volume 23, No. 8, August 2010, pp. 694-695. This article is copyright Dr. Ron Roberts, 2010, and The Psychologist. For permission to reproduce, please write directly to Dr. Roberts at r_a_roberts@btinternet.com


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