Bioethics News

Only in Sweden

Ernada Hidanovic and her son Armando, refugees in Sweden / Paul Madej      

The political and policing problems of allowing hundreds of thousands of refugees from Africa, the Middle East, and Afghanistan to plod into Western Europe tend to overshadow the difficulties of settling them into a new and alien society.

On the medical front countries in Western Europe are well prepared to cope with the massive influx, according to the World Health Organization. But inevitably there are exotic health issues. Female genital mutilation is one that has made headlines. One that hasn’t is “resignation syndrome” in refugee children and adolescents in Sweden.

This must be one of the most bizarre medical stories of the past decade, although it has received almost no publicity outside of Sweden. Hundreds of children and teenagers, aged 7 to 19, have been diagnosed with a mysterious ailment which leaves them unable to eat, speak and move. According to an article by Dr Karl Sallin and colleagues in Frontiers of Behavioural Neuroscience, the typical patient is “totally passive, immobile, lacks tonus, [is] withdrawn, mute, unable to eat and drink, incontinent and not reacting to physical stimuli or pain”.

Unless they are given intensive nursing care, they will die.

And it happens only in Sweden.

In 2014 Swedish medical authorities started calling the phenomenon “resignation syndrome”, but this is just a label, not a solution. All of the affected children are members of ethnic minorities, many of them from former Soviet republics, with a disproportionate share being Uighurs. Many of them have been traumatised by experiencing domestic abuse, witnessing violence or being harassed.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.