Tomorrow the Danish parliament will listen to argument on whether or not the confined Danish myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME) patient Karina Hansen should be released from a hospital where she has been held against her will since February 12 last year. Three specialists will be allowed to have their say at the hearing that was set about a month ago. The hearing will be critical for 25-year-old Miss Hansen who was forcibly removed from her home and incarcerated in the mental ward of a state hospital where she is being treated for “bodily distress syndrome,” a psychosomatic illness.
In February last year five policeman, two social workers, two doctors and a locksmith forced their way into the home where ME patient Karina Hansen lived with her family. Bedridden, she shouted for help, but her parents and sister had been restrained by the police and were unable to help her. Later they found out that she had made 43 cell phone calls and had sent seven text messages in an attempt to resist being removed from her home. Then her battery went flat and since then she has not been able to make calls because she is unable to charge the phone without assistance.
Karina Hansen was diagnosed with ME when she was just 16 and had been hospitalized a number of times, but without any positive results. There is a severe lack of criteria and clinical guidelines for the diagnosis of ME, which is undoubtedly one of the most controversial conditions of modern times. In a recent research paper it was described as “a disabling condition” that is characterized by extreme fatigue after minimal exertion. This definition states that there is also delayed recovery after exertion. The paper, which was aimed at increasing “diagnostic precision” and encouraging further research into the cause, course and treatment of ME, was produced and written by Sandra Howes, a former co-editor of ME and CFS (chronic fatigue syndrome) references; Dr. Ellen M. Goudsmit, a former British health psychologist; and Charles Shepherd, the honorary medical adviser of the ME Association in the United Kingdom.
In addition to the muscle fatigue that is a classic core symptom of ME, this research paper states that flu-type and neurological symptoms including vertigo are also common, as is sensitivity to “certain patterns.” ME, it points out, also comes with cognitive problems that include short-term memory loss as well as an inability to concentrate.
Since 2009, Karina Hansen has been bed-ridden, exhausted and in a lot of pain. The ME diagnosis had been confirmed by a number of doctors. Additionally it was noted that she did not suffer from depression and did not have any psychotic tendencies. But in Denmark there is a trend that categorizes so-called “functional syndromes” with physical symptoms not defined elsewhere, as bodily distress syndrome (BDS). Typically symptoms include headaches as well as muscular and joint pains, shortness of breath and stomach problems. Unexplained illnesses are lumped under the title BDS include ME, CFS, fibromyalgia, and irritable bowel syndrome.
The BDS definition was introduced in 2010 by a Danish doctor, Prof. Per Fink who heads The Research Clinic for Functional Disorders and Psychosomatics in Aarhus. As far as he is concerned, functional disorders are psychosomatic (in the mind) and patients (including those with ME) are treated with antidepressant medication, graded exercise therapy (GET), and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). A major concern of the many critics of this approach is that physical exertion is known to be harmful to those suffering from ME.
It is known that confined Danish ME patient Karina Hansen is being treated by a psychiatrist from Fink’s clinic. In the hearing scheduled for the Danish parliament tomorrow, Per Fink will present his opinion alongside a Danish physician and ME specialist, Dr. Henrik Isager, and Hansen’s lawyer Kjeld Parsberg.
Dr. Fink will discuss functional disorders, which he describes in a much quoted work One single diagnosis, bodily distress syndrome, succeeded to capture 10 diagnostic categories of functional somatic syndromes and somatoform disorders, as representing “body distress” instead of “well-recognized illness.”
Dr. Isager, author of the recently published Blind Spots: The Failure of Contemporary Medicine to Recognize an Epidemic of Energy Loss and Underlying Environmental Disrupt, will talk about ME. In his book, he discusses an “indifferent response” by medics to diseases like MCS, fibromyalgia and ME/CFS, and says he is totally opposed to doctors labeling them psychosomatic or fictitious. He argues that the medical industry has a hostile attitude when it comes to researching illnesses like these because it will take a “paradigm shift in clinical medicine” to change attitudes.
Parsberg will talk about legal consequences of functional disorder being used as a psychiatric diagnosis. According to Rebecca Hansen of the ME Association of Denmark, the hearing will be streamed live in Danish and an English translation will be released in about a week’s time.
Meanwhile, those following the case of the confined Danish ME patient Karina Hansen have noticed the parallels in the sad saga of Connecticut teenager Justina Pelletier who has also been held against her will and the will of her parents for more than a year. Like Justina, her condition has deteriorated since her incarceration. While Justina’s future is largely dependent on the decision of a judge, Karina’s parents are hoping that the parliament hearing scheduled for tomorrow will help them to get her released back into their custody.
By Penny Swift