Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Teresa Forcades: the ARA interview

By Carles Capdevila (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Diari ARA

We haven't heard from you in days. What are you preparing?

Hey! I haven't been preparing anything. I didn't seek out the flu thing; it was the result of a personal and shared concern that spread unexpectedly. The uproar isn't over; I've had a lot of requests for help I want to respond to, both from individuals and the media, conferences...I'm preparing a book on medicalization.

Can you summarize the the thesis for me?

The title could end up being "La desmedicalització" ("Demedicalization"), because it's possible to do it differently. In the modern era, medicalizing was introducing hygienic measures, antibiotic treatments and, as such, the more medicalized a society was, the healthier it was. Today, the more medicalized a society is, the more disease there is, because we put a diagnostic label on phenomena of daily life that years ago would not have occurred to anyone to label as a pathology, such as "social phobia", which we used to call being shy. Moreover, lifelong drug treatment is proposed for it. Why, since it's a character trait?...

More examples.

Sex, with pharmacological reductionism that says, "This is a medical problem and there's a pill that can make you better." Another example is death, which is reduced to conversations of this type: "Has the doctor been by? Have they raised the oxygen? Have they given him the pill yet?..." And hours go by with this, and there isn't social space to address the spiritual or human reality. Another case, hyperactivity in children. There have been initiatives -- paid for by the houses that sponsor a drug -- that are the information on which we rely to say that there's a large percent of children who have this problem and have to buy such and such a pill.

It could be that we're the ones who demand labels, an easy solution for everything.

Both. There are some outside interests but human consciousness is always more powerful -- they can't sell you something if you don't let them. But Illich has said that "the medical system has become a danger to health" and that "the obsession with health has become a pathology." They would have filled Jesus with pills today, because I don't think he was fully well socially and physically. Rightly, nobody lets the priest tell them how to live, but yet you go to the doctor and it seems that he can tell you what you have to do and not do. That is if you want.

Aren't you afraid of criminalizing a whole industry that has saved many lives?

Health care can't go on being a business -- I'm radical about this. Obviously, the industry isn't stupid and, if there's a university that's doing good research, it goes there and buys the patent, but the one who has benefited mankind is the one who invented it -- that an industry comes along and makes a deal doesn't do us any good.

But the researchers do it, hoping that someone buys from them.

If they're doing it with that hope, they won't discover anything good. There's a crisis in innovation because they're making drugs that are repetitions with slight molecular variations so that they can patent them as new ones. To really innovate, you have to have an open heart and mind, you have to be a bit ingenuous and not think about money.

What do you think of homeopathy?

Homeopathy and alternative medicine have been a discovery for me since I've been in the monastery. Conventional medicine is very disappointing for chronic diseases. Plus, now I'm an acupuncturist. A 90-year old sister with osteoarthritis has side effects from the pill, and with the needles, the pain goes away just the same.

The pharmaceutical industry isn't as untouchable as they say. You touched it and nothing happened to you. Or did it?

They withdrew funding from a conference where I was going to speak. If I were in medical practice in the system, things would have happened to me.


Promotion and funding are increasingly dependent on these industries, both in the Faculty of Medicine as well as with respect to the possibilities of biomedical research parks, which increasingly depend on private capital. When talking about public-private partnership, if the decision-making capability is private, it's a scam on the public purse.

What the drug industry is doing -- first scaring us and then selling us the solution -- isn't that what the Church is doing too?

Yes, and when it does it, it's an abuse of power. Fear is the worst argument you can use. Selling a God who judges, who punishes, who watches you to see if you do wrong and who has representatives who are watching you more closely, is a perversion that makes me angrier than the drug companies. What I like about the Gospels is the liberating message -- that you are made in the image of God, that God is absolute love and freedom and you are an embodiment of God's love and freedom in space and time, you are unique and He has loved you from the beginning, He made you out of love and out of love, He waits for you -- I love this!

Your parents weren't believers, were they?

My father clearly called himself an atheist, although I don't know if he would now, and my mother wouldn't call herself an atheist but she taught me to be suspicious of the Church. Before I was 15, I didn't consider it. They sent me to a secular Catalan school. But later, my experience at the Sacred Heart school was critical because the nuns did everything in Spanish; I took notes in Catalan and they called me a "red"...But there, in some gatherings where they put a Bible in my hands, it had a very big impact and I was annoyed. "I lost 15 years of my life! Nobody explained this to me!"

You still took some time to become a nun.

Yes, it wasn't until years later, I came to the monastery to prepare for exams in medicine and this inner struggle began, which was a mixture of fascination and horror. "Is what I'm feeling God speaking to me? If it is, it's fascinating, and if not, maybe I'm going crazy."

And seeing that the Church hasn't progressed on issues like homosexuality and the role of women ...

I'm faithful to what has seemed to me to be from God and I'm critical of the institution. Monasteries are places of women's fullfilment, independent of the patriarchal society. This is a women's environment in which traditional masculine and feminine roles can't play any part.

But when you see the Pope at Sagrada Familia and see those nuns there acting as maids, or when you can't preside at a Mass...

I side with all the criticism, and with the awareness that I would not expect things to change from above. If women in the Church wanted it, this would change in 24 hours. If they just didn't attend Church, everything would fall down. And that's where we are. I don't think this will stand much longer.

You must be in favor of all veils, if you're wearing one.

The basic criterion is: "Is this what women want or is it what someone says they must want?" If I'm living in a Muslim society where if I don't wear a veil or burkha, I'm whipped or burned, this can't be.

Do you read newspapers?

I mistrust the current independence of the media. That Libya business, it's a shame how it went. It was a brazen assassination, it was unwarranted intervention and it was a way to go to make saviors out of a country that caused the same thing in Iraq and Afghanistan, which are much worse now. The lack of critical capacity in international political news is outrageous.

Are you an independentista?

Yes, I could perfectly well be an independentista. What I find ridiculous is that this can't be considered as an option. The exercise of political responsibility for me is to be part of structures of increasing solidarity. There has been sufficient historical experience gathered to know that the closest government is the one you can make take responsibility most directly. And the higher you go -- and it now goes to Europe -- the bureaucracy is more complex and removed from decisionmaking. The Trinity already tells us that diversity is optimal, that there's a unity beyond diversity.

So, the Spanish Church hasn't understood the Holy Trinity?

Not at all. This idea of uniformity is absolutely contrary to what is deduced from the Christian worldview.

Will Catalonia get independence?

If we want it, yes. This is the same as women in the Church. If we want it, in 24 hours. And I'm not saying this jokingly. I believe it; I believe it's essential. If you're waiting for them to move, not in 24 hours or in 24,000 years.

Are you optimistic despite the crisis?

I'm worried. I think the levels of suffering, abuse, and injustice that are occurring are a major scandal and will get worse. We need to heed the most basic demands of the movement of the outraged ones.

With so much work and your leadership ability, doesn't it seem strange to you to be staying quietly at the monastery?

Monastic life isn't an independent feminist republic where we don't care about what's happening. We have many ties; it's not a walled-in refuge.

Do you see yourself at Sant Benet for the rest of your life?

God willing. But if at any time I have to say something that might jeopardize my being able to remain here, I'll have to say it. It's a requirement I have of myself -- consistency and faithfulness to the truth. I've found my home here and I can grow and be myself, but I have to be able to put it on the line. The Christian has to look towards Jesus, and things didn't go too well for Jesus. I know things could happen to me that I don't expect.

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