New Zealand shock survivor David O’Neill – article

Thanks to advocate Anna de Jonge for sending this – Don

Psychiatry: A fraudulent and dangerous practice.
Tuesday, May 08, 2007
Shock therapy ‘barbaric’ – New Zealand

By KAMALA HAYMAN – The Press | Wednesday, 9 May 2007
A Christchurch man says “barbaric” electric shock therapy failed to lift his depression but robbed him of treasured memories.

David O’Neill’s health deteriorated in 2004 after a motorcycle accident damaged his liver, bladder and thyroid and sliced his spleen in two.

He had repeated admissions to hospital for complications of his injuries and a series of unsuccessful investigations to find the cause of his chronic abdominal pain.

The frequent hospital stays and constant pain took its toll on his mental health.

“I ended up suicidal,” said O’Neill.

He was admitted to Hillmorton Hospital in 2005 for depression. On his second stay, a doctor recommended a 12-session course of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), which O’Neill consented to.

“I cannot even remember being admitted to the hospital, never mind giving consent for the ECT,” he said.

The treatment failed to lift his depression and it destroyed his memory. He has no recollection of his wedding day, the birth of his three children or even his childhood.

O’Neill, now 49, said that before his accident he had cared for his wife ? paralysed in a 1985 car accident ? and raised their three children.

“Now I can’t do anything. I feel as if I’m above myself all the time. I don’t feel pain; I’m emotion-free,” he said.

ECT was “barbaric” and should be banned, he said.

His family is dismayed it was not consulted and says O’Neill was not well enough to give properly informed consent.

Daughter Julieanne O’Neill said her father no longer felt any love for his family, including his two-year-old grandson.

“My dad has no feelings for him, no feelings for his family. He doesn’t feel anything for himself. He is living in an empty shell,” she said. “It has taken every single bit of my dad that was ever there away from him.”

She said some doctors appeared to see ECT as “the quickest and easiest” solution. “But it’s not them that has to go home and have this zombie person to cope with.”

Mary O’Neill said the shock treatment had stolen the husband she had known.

Psychiatric Consumers Trust advocate Liz Henderson said ECT could lift depression and transform the lives of patients. “There is a place for it.”
But it had clearly failed O’Neill.

“It has compounded what was already a difficult situation,” Henderson said.

Henderson was concerned that consent was gained without his family’s involvement. “He wasn’t well enough to make that decision.”

Vince Barry, general manager of Canterbury District Health Board mental health services, would not discuss individual patients.

However, he said it was the responsibility of clinicians to determine whether a patient was able to understand the pros and cons of ECT. “It would be unusual for someone to be given ECT without a discussion between the clinical team and close family members,” he said.

The Health and Disability Commissioner has decided against a formal investigation of O’Neill’s case and referred him to an advocate.

The Accident Compensation Corporation has refused his treatment injury claim, ruling that the ECT did not cause a physical injury.

ECT statistics (July 2004-June 2005):

307 patients given ECT (79 in Canterbury).

22 per cent did not give consent.

0.4% of mental health patients given ECT nationally.

1.1% of Canterbury mental health patients given ECT.

Fw by Anna de Jonge
Hamilton New Zealand


3 comments so far

  1. Bill Compton on

    Hi Jim. Photos i received. Thanks

  2. zara on



    This information is to bring to notice what some of the medical staff and management at Hillmorton
    psychiatric hospital are involved in. Medical professionals at that hospital, and other such hospitals throughout the country, have conferred upon them statutory authority to use force against a citizen classified as a ‘patient’ ( see def. s.2 MHA).

    Section 122B(3) of the Mental Health (Compulsory Assessment and Treatment) Act 1992 provides that power, it states:

    A person treating a patient to whom [[section 58 or]] section 59 applies may use such force as is reasonably necessary in the circumstances.

    This subsection confers upon ‘person[s]’ at Hillmorton a statutory discretion to use force against a patient when they are treating that patient. A patient to whom section 58 (assessment periods) or section 59 ( a compulsory treatment order) applies may be subjected to force.

    Note, the use of force is not limited to emergency situations. This is significant, as it means that ‘…such force as is reasonably necessary in the circumstances’ may be used at any time to treat a patient.

    Why should force be used against those who are innocent? Many of those detained in Hillmorton
    and other State psychiatric institutions have never been even charged or convicted of an offence.

    Furthermore, section 122B(3) of the Mental Health (C.A.T.) Act overrides the right to refuse
    medical treatment affirmed in section 11 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990:

    11. Right to refuse medical treatment – Everyone has the right to refuse to undergo any medical treatment.

    What respect do the management and medical staff at Hillmorton have for citizens who are
    deprived of their fundamental right to liberty, and, additionally, are being “forced” to receive
    psychiatric treatment contrary to section 11 NZBORA? ( see also s.23(5) NZBORA – everyone
    deprived of liberty shall be treated with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the person).

    Ultimately, what the staff and management are involved in, albeit lawfully sanctioned, is a
    substantial violation of bodily integrity.

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