Don Weitz’s letter to CBC Radio re pro-shock bias on “Quirks & Quarks”

March 9, 2008

Jim Handman, Producer
“Quirks and Quarks”
CBC Radio

Re Electroshock

Dear Mr. Handman,
As a psychiatric survivor and antipsychiatry activist, I am writing to voice several major criticisms of statements on the psychiatric procedure of electroshock  (“electroconvulsive therapy”) recently expressed by University of Toronto historian Edward Shorter. He was interviewed by CBC radio’s science reporter and host Bob McDonald on “Quirks and Quarks” on March 8.  It’s hard to know where to begin, because Shorter expressed so many distortions and lies about electroshock–they were unchallenged which is inexcusable.

First, the interview was extremely biased, unbalanced and unprofessional. Only the pro-shock views of Shorter were allowed; no electroshock survivors and other critics were interviewed to challenge Shorter’s numerous distortions, if not lies, concerning the major effects and risks of electroshock. Thanks to MacDonald’s consistent refusal to question or challenge Shorter, this interview sounded like a promotional for Shorter and David Healy’s new book Shock Therapy–Shorter is on a disinformation campaign to sell his book, combat growing criticism and promote wider use of electroshock.

Second, Shorter never once mentioned the word ”seizure” or “grand mal seizure” that always occurs during every “ECT” procedure; instead he mentioned “convulsion”.

Third, Shorter failed to mention the 10-20 minute coma following the seizure; his phrase “out of it” is an inaccurate and dishonest substitute for coma.

Fourth, he failed to mention that while conscious shock survivors experience some or all of these immediate effects: disorientation, dizziness, severe headache, memory loss, physical or muscle weakness, nausea, apnea (sudden stoppage of breathing).  Delirium is also a problem, people awakening from the shock are in no shape to drive a car on the day they are shocked, as Shorter claimed.

Fifth, brain damage was flatly denied. Shorter lied when he claimed there is “no brain damage”. In fact, several scientific studies over many years have proved the exact opposite; the American Psychiatric Association grudgingly acknowledges brain damage while minimizing its extent; however, the Canadian Psychiatric Association also flatly denies this damage. Nevertheless the recent and comprehensive study by Sackeim et al published in the January 2007 issue of Neuropsychopharmacology–Shorter had to read or know about it—conclusively proves electroshock causes permanent memory loss and brain damage, and that women survivors suffer “more severe” brain damage (“cognitive dysfunction”) than men. There is further evidence of brain damage in Calloway’s CT scan studies that reveal frontal lobe damage (c.1980); Devinsky & Duchowny’s research shows that electroshock can cause grand mal epileptic seizures after a series of electroshocks, and there’s more evidence of shock-caused brain damage from many other neurological and autopsy studies on humans and animals (see Peter Breggin, Brain-Disabling Treatments in Psychiatry, 1997; John Friedberg, “Shock treatment, brain damage, and memory loss: a neurological perspective”, American Journal of Psychiatry,1974; Leonard Roy Frank, Electroshock Quotationary [online] 2006. Shorter never once mentioned or cited these scientific facts or published works including the disproportionate targeting of women and elderly people – two to three times more women than men are shocked according to ECT statistics from the Ontario government’s Ministry of Health and other sources. Neither Shorter nor MacDonald seemed aware of these facts–apparently both were willfully ignorant.

Sixth, Shorter also lied when he claimed there is “no massive memory loss” or permanent memory loss caused by electroshock; he was dismissive when he mentioned only “transient” loss”. Shorter should know– perhaps he chose not to know–that many scientific studies such as the classic experiments by Yale psychologist Irving Janis (1949-1951); studies by psychologist Larry Squire (1983), and more recent ones clearly and convincingly document the fact that shock-caused memory loss is frequent and permanent. Significantly, Shorter didn’t mention or refer to published testimonies of numerous shock survivors that also reveal massive and permanent memory loss. McDonald should have interviewed Canadian shock survivors such as Wendy Funk, Sue Clark and/or Wayne Lax who have publicly and courageously testified against electroshock; they would have told him about horrific accounts of tragic losses or disabilities–a lot more credible and truthful than the self-serving lies told by Shorter.

If CBC radio is seriously interested in correcting its pro-shock bias and telling the real and horrific truth about electroshock and growing international resistance, it should start interviewing shock survivors such as the ones I mentioned. I can put McDonald and/or other researchers in touch with these shock survivors, other critics and activists. I also recommend that CBC researchers check out these major sites:,,,,

I also ask that you note the March 9 letter from Dr. Bonnie Burstow addressed to “Quirks”/CBC. Dr. Burstow is on the Faculty of the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education/University of Toronto, I hope you reply to her.

I look forward to your reply.

Don Weitz
Executive Committee Member, Coalition Against Psychiatric Assault
1401-38 Orchard View Blvd., Toronto M4R 2G3

%d bloggers like this: