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Mental Health Watchdog Says Electroshock Use on Children and Adolescents is 'Torture' Masked as Therapy

Citizens Commission on Human Rights International
Posted on: 26 Apr 18

LOS ANGELES, April 25, 2018 /PRNewswire/ -- The Citizens Commission on Human Rights (CCHR) International issued its support of a disability rights group, ADAPT, in its demand for a ban on an electric shock device used as punishment and control on individuals with intellectual disabilities. CCHR, a 49-year mental health watchdog, said the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been procrastinating since 2014 about a ban on the shock device called a "Graduated Electronic Decelerator" (GED) which delivers multiple shocks to the skin with voltages ranging from 150 to 200 volts and lasting as long as 12 seconds.[1] The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan E. Méndez, condemned the procedure as "torture."[2] The American Civil Liberties Union said it is "inhumane."[3] Fox News aired video footage of an 18-year-old, Andre Collins, electroshocked 31 times leaving him in a catatonic state and a stress-induced coma.[4] Collins' mother said she never agreed for her son to be "tortured, terrorized, and abused."[5]

Unlike the Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) device that uses up to 460 volts of electricity to the brain in the treatment of "depression," the GED uses painful skin shocks to force compliant behavior in autistic or seriously emotionally disturbed individuals. But Jan Eastgate, President of CCHR, said that the FDA needs to ban both procedures. "American psychiatrists are electroshocking the brains of children aged five and younger with ECT, while behavioral psychologists brutally shock body parts of children to force them into compliant behavior. The UN has condemned both skin shock and enforced ECT as torture. Victims of the skin shock scream in terror while subjected to it and there's no scientific evidence to support either procedure as safe or effective."[6]

Eastgate, who has previously gotten a ban on an electroshock and drug treatment, insists that both shock methods are "torture masked as therapy" and have no place in any mental or behavioral health system.

Emily Willington, an author and a contributing writer to Forbes, stated the obvious to everyone but, apparently, the FDA and U.S. psychiatrists and psychologists: "What science backs up the use of electric shocks to the skin as an appropriate way of modifying behaviors? Not much, unless you're a rodent." In fact, the literature on the so-called "efficacy" of skin shock is mainly on rodents, Willington pointed out. Before switching to painful electrical shock, the GED inventor, a Harvard-trained psychologist, used spanking, pinching, spraying water in the face, and breaking a vial of ammonia under the nose, which he said went out of favor because they were "politically incorrect." [7] Yet, Eastgate said, it seems to be an irrational and cruel twist that electric shocking adolescents 77 times over a three-hour period using the GED is considered "politically correct."

"Governments should be doing everything they can to demand the FDA do its job to protect Americans from this assault and from any form of electroshock therapy," Eastgate further stated.[8]

To quote Special Rapporteur Mendez, the rights of intellectually disabled students subjected to "electric shock and physical means of restraints have been violated under the U.N. Convention against Torture and other international standards."[9]

Cal Montgomery, a disability rights activist and writer, recently wrote that "the shocks hold a special place in the list of horrors to which people with intellectual and developmental disabilities are subjected in the name of 'treatment.'"[10]

Jennifer Msumba, who has autism and was subjected to more than 230 electrical shocks at a Massachusetts facility, told CBS News that she "would ask God to make my heart stop because I didn't want to live when that was happening to me. I just wanted to die and make it stop."[11] Still, the FDA allows a device capable of producing such terror to remain on the market.

Electrical Shock Equates with Torture and Death

Shock procedures have been equated with the horror from the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, where Iraqi prisoners were electrocuted.[12] In 2008, Massachusetts Senator Brian A. Joyce condemned skin shocks, stating: "If we tried to apply this brutal device to a prisoner in Guantanamo or someone in Abu Ghraib, there would be worldwide outrage." Further, "In fact, it's against the Eighth Amendment in our country, right? Cruel and unusual punishment. But we allow it for these innocent children. It's just not right."[13]

In 2004, two U.S. marines pleaded guilty to giving electric shocks to an Iraqi prisoner and were sentenced to prison.[14] Yet, electric shock can be used as punishment with impunity on defenseless intellectually disabled residents in the U.S., CCHR says.

In 2017, a study published in History of Psychiatry described how a Nazi psychiatrist had "systematically" killed people with intellectual disabilities using an ECT machine in the 1940s. In Lower Austria, Dr. Emil Gelny modified an ECT machine, adding extra electrodes, which he fastened onto a victim's wrists and ankles to administer lethal electric shocks.[15] The FDA reports that ECT can cause skin burns, physical trauma (including fractures, contusions, injury from falls, dental and oral injury), prolonged or delayed onset seizure, cardiovascular complications including heart attack, and even death.[16]

In April 2018, a coroner in Victoria, Australia, found that Gerard Helliar had received more than 200 ECT treatments with no evidence that it provided him any relief. After receiving the ECT, Helliar, who had no prior suicide attempts, he tried to hang himself and died after his life support system was turned off.[17] The coroner said there was a failure to deal with the risks linked to the increasingly intense ECT Helliar was subjected to.[18]

Professor John Read and Dr. Richard Bentall, in a review of ECT literature, found reports of ECT-related deaths as one per every 1,447 ECT recipients, while death rates for the elderly were 1 in 200. In another report cited, of 8,148 ECT recipients in Texas, seven died within 48 hours. Excluding the two "unlikely to have been related to ECT" this was a rate of one per 1,630. Eight more died within two weeks of "cardiac events." If these are included, the rate was one per 627.[19] The researchers concluded that given the "strong evidence of persistent and, for some, permanent brain dysfunction" primarily evidenced as amnesia, and the "evidence of slight but significant increased risk of death, the cost-benefit analysis for ECT is so poor that its use cannot be scientifically justified."[20]

Electroconvulsive therapy device makers have never conducted studies to meet FDA safety standards, despite an estimated $75 million made in sales from the machines since 1976. A petition online calls for a ban on ECT. CCHR has also published the Documented Facts & Statistics About Modern Electroshock (ECT).

Eastgate said the FDA's failure to ban both shock devices — the GED and ECT machine — warrants urgent government action to stop the continued torture of vulnerable American citizens, especially children and adolescents.

CCHR is a mental health industry watchdog organization that works for patient protections and encourages the public to take action against mental health abuse. In the course of its 48 years, it has helped get more than 180 laws enacted, including the ban of ECT use in children in several U.S. states and in Australia. As a nonprofit, CCHR relies on memberships and donations to carry out its mission and actions to curb psychotropic drug use in foster care. Click here to support the cause.

Contact: Amber Rauscher, media@cchr.org or (323) 467-4242.

References:

[1] "FDA Panel Says No to Shock Therapy Device," Medpage Today, 24 Apr. 2014, https://www.medpagetoday.com/psychiatry/generalpsychiatry/45420.

[2] Emily Willingham, "Autism Shock Therapy Practiced in US Is Torture, Says UN Official," Forbes, 8 Mar. 2013, http://www.forbes.com/sites/emilywillingham/2013/03/08/autism-shock-therapy-is-torture-says-un-official/#388d11c64fc2.

[3] Susan Mizner, "Shocking Kids into Compliance," ACLU, 25 Apr 2014, https://www.aclu.org/blog/disability-rights/shocking-kids-compliance.

[4] Yukio Strachan, "School tortures autistic boy with electric shocks, staff laughs," Digital Journal, May 6, 2012, http://www.digitaljournal.com/article/324352; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S30mmlSJQ5Q.

[5] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S30mmlSJQ5Q.

[6] "Founder of electric shock autism treatment school forced to quit: Institute uses punishment machine to discipline severely autistic and emotionally disturbed children by giving them electric shocks," The Guardian, 25 May 2011, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2011/may/25/electric-shock-autism-treatment-school.

[7] Op. cit., Emily Willington.

[8] Op. cit., "Founder of electric shock autism treatment school forced to quit…."

[9] Op. cit., Emily Willington.

[10] "Stop the Shocks: Torture in Massachusetts," MadinAmerica.com, 9 Mar. 2018.

[11] "School uses skin shocks to treat autism," ABC 13 Eye Witness News, 14 Sept. 2014, http://abc13.com/health/school-uses-skin-shocks-to-treat-autism/308142.

[12] Jennifer Gonnerman, "The School of Shock," Mother Jones, 20 Aug 2007, https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2007/08/school-shock; "Abu Ghraib: A justice denied," Al Jazeera, 29 Jun 2013.

[13] Paul Kix, "The Shocking Truth," The Boston Globe, July 2008, http://www.bostonmagazine.com/articles/2008/06/the-shocking-truth.

[14] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2004/jun/03/iraq.usa1.

[15] Gazdag G, Ungvari GS, Czech H, "Mass killing under the guise of ECT: the darkest chapter in the history of biological psychiatry," History of Psychiatry, 2017 Dec;28(4):482-488, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28829187.

[16] http://www.fda.gov/downloads/MedicalDevices/…/UCM478942.pdf, pp. 18-19.

[17] "Grandfather forced to undergo ECT before 'preventable' death," The Age, 19 Apr. 2018, https://www.theage.com.au/national/victoria/grandfather-forced-to-undergo-ect-before-preventable-death-20180418-p4zacy.html.

[18] "Vic psych treatment criticised after death," Australian Associated Press, 17 Apr. 2018, https://au.finance.yahoo.com/news/vic-psych-treatment-criticised-death-051201442--spt.html?guccounter=1.

[19] http://psychrights.org/Research/Digest/Electroshock/2010ReadBentallElectroshockReview.pdf.

[20] John Read, Richard Bentall, "The effectiveness of electroconvulsive therapy:  a literature review," Epedmiology e Psychoatrie Sociale, Oct-Dec., 2020, 19, 4, 201, p. 341, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21322506.

Editor's Details

Mike Wood
PharmiWeb.com
www.pharmiweb.com
editor@pharmiweb.com

Last updated on: 26/04/2018

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