Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 23.djvu/650

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are in a hopelessly helpless condition, and may be kept imprisoned thus for years, or even for life, away from their kindred and friends, and from the little ones for whom their hearts yearn with an intensity that no human being can appreciate, except some mother that has lost a child. This lady said she had known such patients, when talking about the little children from whom they had been separated, to sob and moan for hours at a time. But the law is inexorable. It says that a husband may confine his wife in an asylum if he can prove that she is insane—and that is a very comprehensive word. In some States the certificates of two physicians will accomplish this purpose; and, when once a patient is shut up in a ward, there is no deliverance that can be depended upon, as I shall presently proceed to show. But not only do the women suffer in this way, for there are men whose affections are as keen and as strong as those of any woman, who long to be with their boys and girls, to see them growing to manhood and womanhood, but who know neither the day nor the hour when that longing shall be gratified.

In some of our asylums, if not in all, there is a disinclination on the part of the superintendent to take the responsibility of discharging a patient, even when cured. One superintendent explained it to me in this way: "There is," he said, "no certain way of knowing whether a patient is thoroughly cured. Now, if I discharge one such, while his friends do not wish him to be sent away, and he subsequently becomes insane again, I am held responsible, and it tells against my reputation, and, in some cases, I may be obliged to pay the expense of getting the patient back again into the asylum. For that reason," he continued, "I never like to discharge any one until his friends call for him. I keep them informed of his condition, and leave it to them to decide when they will take him away."

But some one will say, there is a Board of Charities or some such arrangement by which the asylums are visited and such patients liberated. In most cases such visitors do not visit in the way the public imagines or the law requires. I have yet to learn of a case of deliverance effected by any such board. They go to the asylum, glance through the "crack wards," and then partake of a sumptuous dinner got up for their benefit by the superintendent, and that is all. But as to any careful search and investigation, to see whether there are not patients whose conditions might not be improved, or whose sufferings alleviated, I never heard of anything of the sort, nor have I ever talked with any one that had. Now, I am not saying that superintendents are cruel, nor that they do not do their duty. I am simply pointing out a system that affords every facility for the perpetration of the grossest and most outrageous injustice; and I leave it to the public to say whether any such system ever existed long anywhere without suffering the perversions which it seemed to invite. Some way should be devised—and a legal enactment would be the best remedy—by