Note: This article continues the series on the psychiatric treatment called electroconvulsive therapy, also called ECT or electroshock. The past articles were dated January 14, 2012; November 21, 2012; and February 4, 2013.
Proposed Bill 5298, which would end involuntary electroshock in Connecticut, has flitted through its first public hearing, in front of the Public Health Committee of the Connecticut General Assembly. The hearing was on February 20 in the Legislative Office Building.
Several people testified and the testimony is interspersed in the more than ten-hour video, taped by the Connecticut Network. Against the bill was Harold Schwartz, Psychiatrist-in-Chief of the Institute of Living and Vice President of Behavioral Health at Hartford Hospital, where voluntary and involuntary ECT are frequently performed. In favor of the bill was me; local disability activist April Scheller; Kirk Lowry, legal director of the Connecticut Legal Rights Project, and Cathy Ludlum and Stephen Mendelsohn of Second Thoughts Connecticut, as well as the bill’s sponsors State Representative Sandy Nafis and State Senator Paul Doyle. The testimony of my friend April Scheller was probably the most impassioned and I thank her for her extremely diligent activism. To her credit, she has been publicly active much more than I have.
An excerpt from April’s oral testimony:
I got an email this morning from Chris Dubey and jumped out of bed. I haven’t even had a shower. This is the first time I’ve been in the legislature. I’ve got like, what, three minutes to convince people to ban torture. Strange life. […] Medication is bad enough, especially when you’re in human bondage, okay. […] I understand trauma. […] Just to clarify, I don’t care if it is biological or not. I don’t believe it’s okay to discriminate on people for biological reasons. Why do we think that’s okay?
Several members of the public have also emailed written testimony in favor of the bill, while Connecticut Probate Court Administrator Paul J. Knierim submitted testimony against the bill. (In Connecticut law, a probate judge can give a court order deeming a patient legally incapable of informed consent, meaning their ability to say yes or no to the treatment can be overridden by certain physicians.)
Among the written testimony is the 2011 “FDA Executive Summary,” about the proposed reclassification of electroshock machines (ECT devices) from Class III, the highest risk-based classification for devices, to one of the lower-risk categories. After much public input, including mine, the Neurological Devices Panel scrubbed that proposal. The testimony of Attorney Kendrick Moxon is here.
Reception at the hearing by the Public Health Committee appeared to be mixed. Several questions were posed and concerns were expressed. After watching much of the videotaped testimony, I emailed a second submission with my critical commentary.
If you have helpful information to contribute about this bill, please submit it to the email address noted above. Bill 5298 is an extremely important and potentially historic piece of legislation. There is much at stake.