Controversy for the Days of

Controversy for the Days of Last Decline, II

APA Drops Stigma On Bulimia

In a hotly contested and heavily argued vote, The American Psychiatric Association agreed yesterday to remove bulimia from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, and agreed no longer to single out the behavior as a “disorder.”

“The conspiracy of silence is coming to an end” said Pamela Moreson of the Independent Womens Health Alliance, “Today the APA has sent a message of hope to the millions of women who live in silence and fear.”

Yesterday’s decision is widely viewed as being the most significant yet in a decades long battle to show compassion and understanding to bulimic Americans, who have suffered for years under the stigma of being considered outsiders in public life. Dr. Irvin Weinstein, who was among the first physicians to question the psychiatric status of bulimia when he was a young intern at Dow Chemical, remembers the furor that his original findings caused only ten years ago: “All the therapists were fixated on a model that understood bulimia as a ‘binge-and-purge’ behavior. Anyone who actually dealt with bulimics could understand that this had more to do with a societal aversion than with real science. The therapist would simply look at the client and say ‘yuck’, and the woman would be left to deal with a stigma by herself.”

The move is widely viewed to be an endorsement of Savinol, the antidigestent drug which has encountered heavy resistance in its bid to be approved by the FDA. Hearings were delayed last week when a small number of doctors questioned the medical findings of the FDA, findings which assert that the drug can be safely taken by women over the age of twelve, say Women’s health advocates. While the delay has caused some concern over whether the drug will be approved, the final decision rests on the decision of the Fifth District Court, which last week ruled that the drug can be safely given as an over the counter health supplement. But even with the status of the drug remaining uncertain, Bulimia Advocates have been quick to seize upon the APA’s declassification of bulimia as a significant moment in women’s health. “We will continue to advocate for women’s health options, clearly,” said Raisa Cheril, of the women’s health group Silent No More “but we feel that today’s decision by the APA is a great step forward toward recognizing bulimics as full persons in the eyes of the Scientific Community.”

Many advocates point to yesterday’s decision as the most significant moment yet in the understanding of bulimic persons, who have long been ostracize by Conservative Christians as living the sort of life that characterized ancient paganism. “The third century Christians were quick to distance themselves from any taint of the pagan world” said Harvey Callish of Harvard Divinity School, “for a third century Christian, the Vomitoria and the Purgatorii (ancient structures for purging food after Roman feasts) were inseparable from the worship of Juno and Pan. This quickly lead to a condemnation of bulimic persons, a condemnation that carried on in various ways even until the 1970’s. Contemporary scholars have tried to reinterpret the idea of bulimia on an older tradition in Christian thought, one that places an emphasis on the denial of appetite to achieve the spiritual self worth of a person.”

Other religious scholars were quick to show support for the action of the APA. Ishani Apuisha, of the Center for eastern studies in Santa Cruz, Ca, points out “the idea of denial is often viewed in the sort of absolute terms that do not allow for a fullness of ones desires. People are often quick to condemn bulimics for having both fullness and self denial, when in fact what they have is a more complete understanding of denial and satisfaction.”

The Finding of the APA came as a great relief to Persia Ward, a 15 year old Arkansas Woman who was being held in a Little Rock psychiatric Facility under twenty-four hour surveillance. “Everyday Persia has been forced to live like a sick animal” said Audrey Alcott, a lawyer who has fought for Ward’s release, in a press conference that followed Ward’s immediate release, “but now we know that millions of women just like her will no longer have to live in a world that treats them like sick people who have to be brainwashed into accepting some definition ‘healthy and normal.’ that takes away a woman’s right to make her own health decisions.” Ward spent three months in the facility under court order, after her stepfather voiced concerns over his daughter’s health in a custody battle.

“My client finally can step out into the world as what she is, without fear of stigmas” continued Alcott, “She finally knows what it is like to be free at last, free at last.”


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