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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2 comments so far

  1. Debby Norman on

    Thank you for yor eloquence, Don. I’m a shock/psychiatry survivor and Mindfreedom member. I have been reading near-daily reports on Ray’s ordeal with growing outrage.

    Ironically, psychiatry is increasingly mouthing notions like “choice” and “personal responsibility” at the same time it campaigns to extend its controlling grip on every aspect of our lives. So of course Ray has no one to blame for his plight but himself. Ray has repeatedly violated the Accepted Social Norms. The system swung into action, and it’s been acting on Ray ever since.

    Enforcing the Accepted Social Norms is psychiatry’s primary mission, and shrinks will subject you to all any “treatment” they can devise until you “agree” to behave. They want us to understand that and stay in line. That’s the real message of what’s happening to Ray; even the ECT abuse involves a method, not a purpose.

    (If you don’t share my belief in psychiatry’s allegiance to the Accepted Social Norms, browse the DSM and count how often the phrase recurs).

    There’s a Butcher’s Bill to pay for those who don’t behave; evidence Ray. But the psych establishment still wants us to believe that everything they do to us is For Our Own Good.

    Look at how hard they’re working to help Ray.

    The offense is Failure to Conform in the First Degree. The treatment/punishment is shock without end. It makes a mockery of psychiatry’s claim to be medical treatment. Its method and purpose shock the conscience.

    I think this is what Psychos call “intensive therapeutic management.” It plain English, this means punishing, isolating or silencing crazy people so they won’t make “normal” people uncomfortable. Usually, these “managed” patients survive physically. There are statistics on how many who don’t. I’m afraid Ray will end up as a statistic.

    It’s not literally possible to make someone invisible, but psychiatry has worked out several techniques to make them vanish — except, perhaps, in the memories of those who once knew them. Achieving this forced quietude is psychiatry’s secondary mission. Every time I think about inmates imprisoned in solitary confinement or on back wards, I think of Ralph Ellison’s book “Invisible Man.”

    Ray just won’t vanish, which is the second part of his offense. He’s not just ignoring the Accepted Social Norms; he’s spitting in their faces. His defiance of his Invisible Man obligations is egregious. He just won’t choose to understand that his captors are frying him For His Own Good and take this quietly.

    Instead, Ray chooses defiance. He refuses to shut up. He refuses to go away. He seems to take positive satisfaction in staying in the radar. He speaks without jargon, affect or sophistication. But its very plainness empowers his voice. This is man is a threat and must be dealt with.

    Ray’s captors would have us believe they’re doing everything according to proper medical procedures. First, his “therapy” follows basic medical practice, i.e. treatment takes place under the authority of a plan developed by a physician.

    After all, psychiatry is a branch of medicine, which means it is based on science. So when your psychiatrist must inform you that you have Borderline Personality Disorder, he’s doing so with the exact degree of scientific precision with which your gastroenterologist tells you that you have a gallstones. For some reason a lot of us have trouble taking these claims seriously.

    Superficially, a regimen of shock without end suggests that that Ray’s doctor does not have a treatment plan.

    I think he has one. The plan is to shock Ray until he is either dead or brain-dead. In either event Ray will no longer be able to violate the Accepted Social Norms. His defiance will cease. The threat will be neutralized.

    It’s burning the village in order to save it. But psychiatrists hold the vanguard in the war on the “mentally ill.”

    Already Ray is well on his way. He has told Mindfreedom that he can no longer remember the names of some close relatives. As far as he can determine this loss is permanent.

    Ray’s story breaks my heart, but I’ll admit I usually fail in my duty to fight back. This is the last and the most difficult civil rights issue, and so often I feel as if we’re playing Don Quixote against windmills the size of mountains.

    Every other civil rights struggle succeeded to the extent it was able to get the public to recognize that members of marginalized groups were human beings with human rights. But the public doesn’t think of crazy people that way, and it don’t want to. We are at best an embarrassment. People mouth sympathy and understand when in fact they fear and despise us. Most of all, they just want us to disappear.

    Authoritarian, punitive psychiatry continues to thrive ultimately because the public demands it. We’re a problem that people want to dump on somebody else and then look away.

    Still, we have to keep on fighting. For Ray. For our brothers and sisters. For ourselves.

    I’ll keep fighting as long as Ray does.


  2. caroline on

    my mother was abused by the Ontario psychiatric system in the 1950’s. Is there someone out there who can help me sort this out? Please.

    My father was killed on the job in 1954 and my mother was put in Whitby Psychiatric hospital where she was given electric shock, aborted, and sterilized. She was 19 with 2 children under 3 and pregnant. I believed what they did to her was to prevent her from being a social burden.

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