Articles

Electroshock as a Form of Violence Against Women
by Dr. Bonnie Burstow

This article reframes electroconvulsive therapy as a form of violence against women. Drawing on women’s testimony and on scientific research, it establishes that this “treatment,” which is overwhelmingly given to women, results in extensive cognitive and physical impairment. Correspondingly, it functions and is experienced as a form of assault and social control, not unlike wife battery. Emergent themes include electroshock as life destroying, a sign of contempt for women, punishment, a means of enforcing sex roles, a way to silence women about other abuse, an assault, traumatizing for those who undergo it and those forced to witness it. Read the entire article [pdf].

Understanding and Ending ECT: A Feminist Imperative
by Dr. Bonnie Burstow

It may initially seem strange discussing ECT or electroshock in a journal issue devoted to violence against women. After all, is not ECT a standard psychiatric treatment? Indeed, it is. It is despite the fact that since its inception in fascist Italy, there have been mammoth concerns about it. Significantly, objections and qualms were immediately voiced by both recipients and professionals. As Leonard Frank documents, no sooner did the first jolt of electricity surge through the head of the first ECT victim than the victim bolted upright, screaming in horror, “Non una seconda! Mortificare!” (Not again, it will kill me). “When I saw the patient’s reaction, I thought to myself, this should be abolished,” ECT’s inventor acknowledged. Read the entire article [pdf].

Electroshock Is Not a Healing Option
The Report of the Panel on Electroshock, Inquiry into Psychiatry 2005

The public is generally unaware that electroshock, officially called “electroconvulsive therapy” or “E.C.T.”, is still prescribed as a psychiatric treatment. In fact, electroshock is still legal in every province and territory of Canada, increasingly prescribed and administered to thousands of citizens each year as a treatment for depression and other conditions. Since it was introduced in Canada and the United States in the early 1940s, electroshock has been one of the most controversial procedures in psychiatry today. However, no government in Ontario or Canada has ever held public hearings on electroshock.

Virtually everyone testified about the many serious effects of electroshock – such as permanent memory loss, brain damage, intellectual and learning disabilities, fear, trauma, as well as coercion, and lack of informed consent. Except for one person, everyone urged a total ban on electroshock (see summary of these hearings in journal article in Appendix C). Also, on November 20th, 1997, a public forum focussed on the impact of electroshock on women and the elderly was held at the University of Toronto. Read the entire report [pdf].

We Need to Ban Electroconvulsive Therapy
by Peter R. Breggin, MD.
from Brain-Disabling Treatments in Psychiatry (Springer Publishing Co., 1997, pp.155-156)

“I have long argued that ECT is an ineffective, dangerous, anachronistic treatment that should be abandoned by modern psychiatry. Yet, despite the urging of many victims of ECT, I refused for many years to endorse public or legislative efforts to ban it. It was my position that the practice of medicine and the rights of patients were better served by insisting on informed consent–and by holding liable those psychiatrists who fail to convey to their patients the controversial nature of ECT and its potentially damaging effects.

Unfortunately … organized psychiatry is determined not to inform professionals or patients about the risk of ECT … The APA report (American Psychiatric Association 1990) provides a shield for those who recommend and administer ECT–an ‘official’ conclusion that there is no serious risk of harm. Doctors who prescribe or recommend ECT can try to hide behind this report when their injured patients protest to them or bring legal action… Informed consent for ECT becomes a mirage… I now endorse public efforts to ban ECT. The banning of ECT should be supported by all concerned mental health professionals…

Some patients do feel ‘helped’ by ECT. Often they have been so damaged that they cannot judge their own condition. They suffer from iatrogenic denial and helplessness. But should a treatment be banned when some people believe they are helped by it? In fact, it is commonplace in medicine and psychiatry to withdraw treatments and devices that have caused serious harm to a small percentage of people, even though they may have helped a very large percentage. The risk of serious injury to a few outweighs helping many…

In the case of ECT, a large percentage of people are being harmed, and there’s little evidence that many are being helped. There’s no evidence that the treatment prevents suicide or rescues desperate cases. At best the treatment offers a very poor trade-off–potentially irreversible brain damage and mental dysfunction in exchange for the docility and temporary emotional blunting or euphoria that result from the damage.”

Electroshocking Elderly People: Another Psychiatric Abuse
by Don Weitz

Electroshock appears to be increasingly prescribed as a treatment for “clinical” depression and other so-called mental disorders. Women and elderly people, particularly old women, are its chief targets–more damning evidence of psychiatry’s sexism and ageism. In the United States during the last ten years, an estimated 100,000 people have been shocked each year. In Canada, perhaps as many as 10,000 people, again mostly women, have been electroshocked each year, but nobody knows for sure because Health and Welfare Canada and the provincial health ministries do not publish ECT statistics, some of which are available on request. Besides, ECT statistics are notoriously inaccurate and unreliable, because collection methods differ from province to province and state to state; hospitals aren’t required to keep accurate ECT records and not all hospitals are required to report ECT to provincial health ministries or state mental health departments. Read the entire article [doc].

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