The bill that would abolish involuntary shock therapy in Connecticut, particularly involuntary electroconvulsive therapy (ECT or electroshock), presently has published written testimony from nineteen individuals (and some unpublished testimony) and a copy of a report from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Here’s the second part of my breakdown of the written testimony, with some relevant information. (I exclude my own testimony and that of State Representative Sandy Nafis and State Senator Paul Doyle, as we spearheaded the bill.)
See the end for hyperlinks to my articles on electroshock, in chronological order.
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Michael Chavin, Commissioner of the Citizens Commission on Human Rights
Michael Chavin is a certified anesthesiologist who recounts how he assisted psychiatrists with over two thousand electroshock procedures from the 1980s to 1990s. He describes how he finally abandoned this practice, as well as making a decision to end any involvement with psychiatry (page 1). He became a Commissioner of CCHR. His submission has a hyperlink to a CCHR Webpage with more information on ECT and a free PDF (portable document format) entitled The Brutal Reality. It’s about electroshock and psychosurgery and is thirty-two pages in length. Although CCHR is connected to the Church of Scientology and is very biased against psychiatry in general, the PDF references its sources.
Stephen Mendelsohn and Cathy Ludlum of Second Thoughts Connecticut
Cathy Ludlum notes her long history in disability activism. On page 2, she cites a report by the National Council on Disability (NCD):
In 2000, NCD issued a report called “From Privileges to Rights: People Labeled with Psychiatric Disabilities Speak for Themselves.” The report was based on testimony from a public hearing held in Albany, NY in 1998. This hearing was unique in that people with firsthand experience of the psychiatric system were the key presenters, and their advice was taken seriously. The resulting recommendations came directly from the comments of the people who testified.
While many issues were identified, there was one overwhelming theme. According to the report, “The foremost change that is needed, as referred to by speaker after speaker, is the elimination of coercion from the provision of mental health services. Involuntary commitment and forced treatment, which often go unquestioned in discussions of mental health policy, were described again and again as being among the most painful and difficult experiences of people’s lives.”
In his written testimony, Stephen Mendelsohn appears to cite the same report as saying, “Public policy should move toward the elimination of electroconvulsive therapy and psychosurgery as unproven and inherently inhumane procedures” (1).
Mendelsohn addresses how coercion unbalances the informed consent process and gives sources about the harmful medical effects of electroshock. Mendelsohn attached a copy of the letter sent by electroshock survivor Leonard Roy Frank to the FDA, when it was taking public docket submissions on the proposed reclassification of electroshock machines (Docket No. FDA-2009-N-0392). Frank’s letter provides well-referenced sources about the severe physical and cognitive risks of electroshock.
However, Frank’s letter cites some very old sources, such as a study from 1942. Proponents of ECT have criticized such old research, saying that the modern treatment is vastly different from that older form. Some of that old research is still useful, but I just want to point out my awareness of that criticism.
Harold Schwartz, Psychiatrist–in–chief of the Institute of Living
Harold Schwartz makes claims about ECT that have been widely stated, but he does not cite any specific study to support those claims. An excerpt of his letter:
ECT is an evidence based treatment that is highly effective and delivered in a safe and humane manner. […] Significant side effects are rare. The patient may experience mild short term memory loss which generally diminishes over time.
My testimony, the testimony of Stephen Mendelsohn attached with Leonard Roy Frank’s letter, and the testimony of Jim Gottstein contains extensive references countering those claims.
Schwartz also states, “Some will die without this treatment of last resort.” Yes, perhaps some patients would die. Yet torture is cruel and electroshock is not the only last resort. Despite their risks and limitations, herbal remedies help some people with major psychiatric problems and there is research supporting some of them as such. Moreover, as I wrote in my testimony, there are researched non-psychotropic treatments said to work by similar biochemical mechanisms to electroshock, but which are apparently less invasive and safer. I do not endorse any of these specific treatments, since I know very little about them, but I got some information on one.
Fisher Wallace Laboratories
I contacted some companies offering such alternative non-drug treatments, requesting that they submit testimony about their treatments. Not only could such information help Bill 5298, but I also felt that it would benefit the public to know more about these alternatives. The first company that I contacted was Fisher Wallace Laboratories, which makes a CES device, that is, a device for cranial electrotherapy stimulation. I had read a little about CES in an article on the natural health Website NaturalNews.
An excerpt of the letter from Kelly Roman, Executive Vice President of Fisher Wallace Laboratories:
CES and TMS [transcranial magnetic stimulation] are cleared by the FDA for the treatment of depression. Neither cause seizures or memory loss. Whereas ECT typically costs approximately $30,000, CES is an at-home therapy that costs between $495 - $695 and TMS is an in-office procedure that costs $6,000 - $12,000. ECT is economically advantageous to the clinics and hospitals that offer it, an this may unduly affect clinical decision making. Whereas ECT and TMS are both expensive, in-office treatment options, CES is a low cost, at-home alternative.
Roman also talks of the company’s “top” psychiatrists and a bulk of “over 200” studies about their Fisher Wallace Stimulator. Roman concludes, “Fisher Wallace Laboratories opposes involuntary ECT, especially for patients who have not been prescribed CES and TMS beforehand.”
Electromedical Products International (EPI)
I also received a lengthy slideshow from Electromedical Products International, about their competing Alpha-Stim CES Devices. It states how their Alpha-Stim devices are used by the military and state prisons, hospitals, and substance abuse programs. There is a lot of research on safety and effectiveness. Electromedical Products International has informed me that they submitted their presentation to the Public Health Committee, although it hasn’t been published to the testimony page as of yet.
An excerpt of the slideshow (page 14):
EPI has an abundance of well controlled investigations amassed over 31 years of encouraging research by independent government and university investigators in the form of mechanistic studies using fMRI, LORETA, EEG, EMG and other diagnostic tests as well as double-blind randomly controlled trials and less rigid research models. This is further supported by post marketing surveillance in the form of several comprehensive scientifically valid user surveys.
Another non-drug treatment for depression is transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS). NaturalNews also has an article about TMS, specifically a type called rTMS.
The company Neuronetics makes a TMS device, but they refused my request to submit testimony. Sue McMonigle, Vice President of Marketing, sent me this message on February 27:
At the time, NeuroStar TMS Therapy has not been studied as an alternative to ECT and we do not have the ability to promote it that way according to the FDA label. NeuroStar is indicated for patients with major depressive dis-order who have failed to achieve satisfactory improvement from one prior anti-depressant medication at or above the minimal effective dose and duration in the current episode. Because of this, we cannot respond to the request you sent us.
Incidentally, Joanna H. Fogg–Waberski, Director of ECT Service at the Institute of Living, also is a provider of NeuroStar TMS Therapy, using the device made by Neuronetics. It seems that Fogg–Waberski oversees both voluntary and involuntary electroshock.