Bioethics Blogs

John Foot’s The Man Who Closed the Asylums: Franco Basaglia and the Revolution in Mental Health Care by Nirmala Jayaraman

The Man Who Closed The Asylums: Franco Basaglia and the Revolution in Mental Health Care

by John Foot

Verso Press, 2015, 404 pages

Embracing change is the best way to keep up with John Foot’s pace in his book, The Man Who Closed The Asylums: Franco Basaglia and the Revolution in Mental Health Care (2015). Foot’s holistic approach will appeal to anthropologists and general readers alike as he gathers insight on those who were recovering from both physical and psychological maltreatment in a post-war world (169). This balanced and fair-minded account of mental healthcare reform in 1960’s Italy shows that a hospital’s culture reflects how society at large is structured (175). The book explores how the psychiatrist Franco Basaglia persuaded members of the healthcare community to shut down asylums where abusive practices were being used on patients (133). These meetings lead to legislation where the delivery of mental healthcare would be incorporated into hospitals that covered the general patient population as more people discontinued the use of psychiatric asylums (374). Foot writes that, “As director in Gorizia, Basaglia quickly became convinced that the entire asylum system was morally bankrupt. He saw no medical benefits in the way that patients were treated inside these institutions. On the contrary, he became convinced that some of the eccentric or disturbing behavior of the patients was created or exacerbated by the institution itself” (22).

Basaglia sought to make asylums more humane, but as part of a larger strategy to close down asylums altogether, since reform could not redeem an outdated model of healthcare that survived a period of fascism and the Second World War (157).

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.