"It's great to be free," Cheryl Miller said on Saturday. "Freedom at last. I am relieved." Unfortunately, Cheryl Miller is not exactly free yet. On Friday, Justice Vasheist Kokaram granted a writ of habeas corpus to release her from St Ann's Psychiatric Hospital until the matter is heard again on Thursday.
Until then, Ms Miller is technically on leave from her enforced stay at the hospital, which began 16 days ago after an incident at the Ministry of Gender, Youth and Child Development. The image of Ms Miller in the Sunday Guardian, a young woman shyly huddled behind her sister and flanked supportively by a large male cousin, does not support the notions of threat that led to the draconian action taken after her reported outburst.
And for other reasons too, what happened that day-and why Ms Miller was kept at the hospital-remains unclear.
Concerned family members and coworkers first sent a letter to the permanent secretary of the Ministry outlining what happened on the day that Ms Miller was committed to the psychiatric hospital. Ms Miller was said to have had an outburst at her workplace, and claimed to be feeling persecuted and victimised. Gender Minister Verna St Rose-Greaves was described as having spoken with her and in the understated words of the letter written by her colleagues, "Some time after that, things took a turn for the worse."
It got pretty bad. Someone in authority at the Gender Ministry apparently decided that Ms Miller's problem was better addressed by mental-health professionals than human-resource personnel. After an interview by medical officers characterised as "brief," Ms Miller was taken from her office at Tower D at the Waterfront Complex to St Ann's.
It remains unclear whether her family was contacted in a timely manner about the decision to commit her to the mental hospital. They certainly did not give permission. The Gender Minister was circumspect and polite in her characterisation of that day's events when speaking with the media, no doubt aware of the quite sharp irony of what had happened in a ministry dedicated to addressing gender equality and women's issues.
Ms St Rose-Greaves told reporters on Tuesday that she was sorry that the incident had "hit the public domain." Whatever Cheryl Miller's actual mental state, it is useless now for the Gender Ministry, the Health Ministry or the medical professionals of St Ann's Medical Hospital to try to cover up the details of this matter under a smokescreen of patient confidentiality or a misplaced notion that silence might preserve Ms Miller's dignity. That ship sailed a fortnight ago.
At this point, the general opinion is that that professional veil is being employed as a shield for doctors' arrogance, political interference, incompetence or plain human error. Once Ms Miller's colleagues took to the street to protest her continued detention at the mental hospital and her family sought the intervention of the media, the only option that remained for officials in the ministry and at the hospital was full disclosure of the facts.
Health Minister Dr Fuad Khan has understood the gravitas of the matter and has promised serious action when he gets to the bottom of it. From his perspective, someone either broke medical protocol in admitting Cheryl Miller against her will or did so in releasing her.
Hopefully, his investigation will clarify the lapses in policy or procedure that led to this unfortunate situation. There is also growing public anxiety that what happened to Miller might happen to anyone who chooses to speak up for their rights or in defiance of the Government. The only way to dispel such concerns is to replace them with clearly articulated facts.