Archive for April, 2009|Monthly archive page

CAPA Statement re Shock Machines

Food and Drug Administration Dockets Management Branch (HFA-305 5630 Fishers  Lane, Room 1061 Rockville, MD  20852 Docket Number FDA-2009-N-0392

The Coalition Against Psychiatric Assault (CAPA) strongly opposes the FDA’s intention to reclassify shock (“ECT”) machines from Class-III  (high-risk) to Class-II (low-risk).

CAPA is a grassroots, political action organization of electroshock survivors, psychiatric survivors, health professionals, academics, social justice and antipsychiatry activists; it plans and organizes strategic actions against electroshock and psychiatric drugs – its two priorities. We wish to point out that several CAPA members have undergone electroshock and suffered permanent memory loss and brain damage from this allegedly “safe and effective treatment”. Since its founding over five years ago, CAPA has spoken out against electroshock, organized educational events such as public forums, free public lectures, and nonviolent public protests. CAPA has repeatedly and publicly called for an immediate ban.

CAPA’s continuing resistance to electroshock is based on several scientific facts and the personal testimony of many shock survivors:  Shock machines deliver up to 400 volts of electricity (Cameron, 1994) It has been established to a point of statistical significance that all forms of ‘ECT’ cause brain damage. The FDA has never tested shock machines for medical safety and therapeutic effectiveness. (Andre, 2009) During the shock treatment, electrodes are placed above the temporal lobes, the site of memory function in the brain Every shock treatment causes a grand-mal epileptic seizure. convulsion and coma (Breggin, 1997,1998) Shock treatments cause many devastating effects – particularly brain damage, permanent memory loss, problems in concentration and learning, loss of creativity, and sometimes death. It has destroyed the careers and lives of many (Friedberg, 1977; Breggin, 1998, 2008; Frank, 1990, 2006; Sterling, 2002; Funk, 1998; Report of the Panel, 2005)

Thirty years ago in a report on medical devices, the FDA officially listed 8  “risks to health” including brain damage and memory loss (Federal Register,1979; Andre, 2009) Women and the elderly are very vulnerable and suffer the most severe memory loss and brain damage (Sackeim, 2007); elderly women are the most vulnerable (Burstow, 2006; Weitz, 1997) 2 to 3 times more women than men are electroshocked; women experience electroshock as a form of violence against women (Burstow, 2006a, 2006b)  Shock treatments shorten the life of elderly patients (Black et al, 1989; Breggin, 1997, 2008; Kroessler & Fogel, 1993; Weitz, 1997) Since psychiatrists and other physicians frequently violate the patient’s right to informed consent, shock treatments are generally coercive (Breeding, 2000; Report of the Panel, 2005) Electroshock triggers terror and trauma in most patients. (Breggin, 1998; Report of the Panel, 2005)

Given these facts, we conclude that shock machines pose unacceptably high risks to the health and lives of hundreds of  thousands of people. We urge the FDA not to be pressured by the American Psychiatric Association, which is currently lobbying to reclassify them in Class-II. Until they are banned, all shock machines should remain in Class-III. We also recommend that the FDA start testing shock machines for their medical safety; we are confident they will be proved medically unsafe. As engines of destruction, shock machines have no place in the health care system of the United States and all other countries. They should have been banned long ago.

Dr. Bonnie Burstow, Chair
Dianne Moore Don Weitz Executive Committee,
Coalition Against Psychiatric Assault (CAPA)


Andre, L. (2009). Doctors of Deception: What They Don’t Want You To Know About Shock Treatment. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

Black, D.W., Winokur, G., Mohandoss, E., Woolson, R.F. and Nasrallah, A. (1989) “Does treatment influence mortality in depressives? A follow-up of 1076 patients with major affective disorders.” Annals of Clinical Psychiatry, 1(3), 165-173.

Breeding, J. (2000). “Electroshock and Informed Consent.” Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 40, 65-79.

Breggin, P. (1997). Brain-Disabling Treatments in Psychiatry. New York: Springer Publishing Company. Ch.8 “Electroshock for Depression”, 129-156.; 2nd  edition, 2008.

Breggin, P. (1998). Electroshock: Scientific, Ethical, and Political Issues. International  Journal of Risk and Safety in Medicine (11), 5-40.

Burstow, B. (2006a) “Electroshock As a Form of Violence Against Women”, Violence Against Women, vol.12 no.4. 372-392.

Burstow, B. (2006b). “Understanding and Ending ECT: A Feminist Imperative”. Canadian Woman Studies, vol. 25, numbers 1,2, 115-122.

Cameron, D.G. (1994).  “ECT: Sham Statistics, the Myth of Convulsive Therapy, and the Case for Consumer Misinformation”, The Journal of Mind and Behavior, vol.15, numbers 1 and 2, 177-198

Federal Register (November 28, 1979). “Classification of Electroconvulsive Therapy Devices”. Vol.43, No.220, 55729.

Frank, L. (1990). “Electroshock: death, brain damage, memory loss, and brainwashing”. Journal of Mind and Behavior, 11, 489-512.

Frank, L. (2006). The Electroshock Quotationary [online

Friedberg, J. (1977).  Shock treatment, brain damage, and memory loss: a neurological perspective. American Journal of Psychiatry 134: 1010-1014.

Funk, W. (1998). “What DiffErenCe Does IT Make?”: Journey of a Soul Survivor. Cranbrook, B.C.: Wildflower Publishing Company [self-published].

Kroessler, D. and Fogel, B.S. (1993) “Electroconvulsive therapy for major depression in the oldest old”. The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, 1(1), 30-37.

Sackeim, H.A et al (2007). “The Cognitive Effects of Electroconvulsive Therapy in Community Settings.” Neuropsychopharmacology, 32, 244-54.

Sterling, P. (October 2002). Comments on Brain Damage and Memory Loss From Electroconvulsive Shock. Dublin, Ireland: Wellbeing Foundation.

Weitz, D. (1997).  “Electroshocking Elderly People: Another Psychiatric Abuse”. Changes: International Journal of Psychology and Psychotherapy, vol.15 no.2


The Betrayal of Ray Sandford: Electroshock, Torture, and the Lutheran Church
by Don Weitz

Note: This opinion piece is partly based on a letter I sent a few months ago to the Minnesota branch of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America in Minneapolis,

It’s a miracle that 54-year-old Ray Sandford is still alive after having been forcibly electroshocked over 40 times in less than 6 months. He may not survive another electroshock (“ECT”) procedure. In 2008, Ray was court-ordered to undergo an indefinite number of electroshocks, with the approval of Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty,  the state psychiatric organization and the Lutheran Church, specifically Lutheran Social Services of Minnesota and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. On December 24, Mr. Sandford was forcibly subjected to his 36th shock. Some Christmas gift!  By April 2009, Ray has undergone over 40 electroshocks against his will.  By any standard of medical ethics, this is cruel and unusual treatment or torture, a blatant and continuing violation of human rights.

Electroshock – shock promoters sanitize and call this horrific psychiatric procedure “electroconvulsive therapy”– is inherently destructive and inhumane. During every ‘treatment’, an average of 200 volts is delivered to the brain through attached electrodes. The immediate effects are a grand mal epileptic seizure, convulsion, and coma. When the patient awakens, s/he experiences a severe headache, disorientation (not knowing where you are, the date and/or your own name), physical or muscle weakness, trauma, and memory loss, which is frequently permanent. Permanent memory loss always indicates brain damage. Many shock survivors and professional critics assert the brain damage including memory loss always occurs following every  ‘treatment’. According to neurologists, the so-called “improvement” following a series of ‘ECTs’ is actually temporary euphoria or giddiness that regularly occurs after head injury, the so-called ”improvement” or ”high” from electroshock lasts a maximum of 6-8 weeks. The average number of ECTs administered to the person is 8-10. Mr. Sandford has already been forcibly shocked over four times that number – one shock is one too many!

For several months since last spring, Ray Sandford has tried to refuse electroshock- he told his psychiatrist, a judge, and a spokesperson for the Lutheran Church that he suffering serious effects of the shocks and wants them stopped immediately. To their shame, not one of these authorities listened, they’ve callously ignored Mr. Sandford’s competent refusal.

The Lutheran Church of America’s refusal to get involved in Ray’s case is particularly troubling and inexcusable – a betrayal of trust. The Church cannot plead ignorance about electroshock since its many devastating and permanent effects have been widely published in medical journals and the media for over 50 years. The Church also cannot justify its silence when it claims that making a public statement would violate Mr. Sandford’s right to confidentiality or privacy. In fact, Mr. Sandford has explicitly and repeatedly urged survivor and human organizations, such as MindFreedom International, to publicize his struggle to stop the electroshocks. Having survived over 40 ECTs, it’s amazing that Mr. Sandford is still alive. That fact speaks to Mr. Sandford’s courageous refusal of electroshock and his will to live—a sharp contrast to the Lutheran Church’s continuing and inexcusable silence and its implicit support of this memory-destroying, brain-damaging procedure.

For over 25 years, many of us shock survivors, other psychiatric survivors, professional critics including psychiatrist Peter Breggin, neurologist John Friedberg, and neuroscientist Peter Sterling, and human right activists have protested against electroshock in various states including California and Texas; anti-shock protests and public demonstrations have also been held in Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal in Canada, as well as Cork, Ireland and New Zealand. We‘re demanding an immediate ban. Through the organizational initiatives of MindFreedom International, a coalition of over 100 psychiatric survivor and human rights organizations in 14 countries, MindFreedom Ireland, and the Toronto-based Coalition Against Psychiatric Assault (CAPA), we have launched national and international campaigns to ban electroshock because we know it’s traumatic, frequently torturous, and unethical. Over 2 months ago on February 1, the CAPA Executive including myself wrote a letter of protest to Erick Jonsgaard, Ray’s ‘general guardian’ – he never replied.

Given that the Lutheran Church is a religious and Christian organization, I find it bitterly ironic that on December 24, the day before Christmas when Mr. Sandford was forcibly shocked the 36th time, the Church refused to speak out, refused to raise any ethical or moral issues involved in electroshock, and refused to provide any meaningful support to Ray Sandford in his hours of great personal suffering and crisis.  Equally unfortunate, his lawyer appears to be more of a hindrance than help. On April 15, 2009, USA Tax Day, Ray Sandford will be forcibly shocked again  – in the name of “mental health”. Perhaps Minnesota taxpayers will be shocked to know a portion of their taxes are being used to forcibly shock and brain-damage Ray Sandford and other vulnerable citizens.

Biographical note: Don Weitz is an insulin shock survivor, executive member of the Coalition Against Psychiatric Assault, and co-editor of Shrink Resistant: The Struggle Against Psychiatry in Canada.

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