Electroshock… Therapy or Torture for Children and Adolescents?

Lifestyle, National News
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The Citizens Commission on Human Rights (CCHR) International issued its support of a disability rights group, ADAPT, in its demand for a ban on an electric shock device used as punishment and control on individuals with intellectual disabilities. CCHR, a 49-year mental health watchdog, said the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been procrastinating since 2014 about a ban on the shock device called a “Graduated Electronic Decelerator” (GED) which delivers multiple shocks to the skin with voltages ranging from 150 to 200 volts and lasting as long as 12 seconds.[1] The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan E. Méndez, condemned the procedure as “torture.”[2] The American Civil Liberties Union said it is “inhumane.”[3] Fox News aired video footage of an 18-year-old, Andre Collins, electroshocked 31 times leaving him in a catatonic state and a stress-induced coma.[4] Collins’ mother said she never agreed for her son to be “tortured, terrorized, and abused.”[5]

Unlike the Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) device that uses up to 460 volts of electricity to the brain in the treatment of “depression,” the GED uses painful skin shocks to force compliant behavior in autistic or seriously emotionally disturbed individuals. But Jan Eastgate, President of CCHR, said that the FDA needs to ban both procedures. “American psychiatrists are electroshocking the brains of children aged five and younger with ECT, while behavioral psychologists brutally shock body parts of children to force them into compliant behavior. The UN has condemned both skin shock and enforced ECT as torture. Victims of the skin shock scream in terror while subjected to it and there’s no scientific evidence to support either procedure as safe or effective.”[6]

Eastgate, who has previously gotten a ban on an electroshock and drug treatment, insists that both shock methods are “torture masked as therapy” and have no place in any mental or behavioral health system.

Emily Willington, an author and a contributing writer to Forbes, stated the obvious to everyone but, apparently, the FDA and U.S. psychiatrists and psychologists: “What science backs up the use of electric shocks to the skin as an appropriate way of modifying behaviors? Not much, unless you’re a rodent.” In fact, the literature on the so-called “efficacy” of skin shock is mainly on rodents, Willington pointed out. Before switching to painful electrical shock, the GED inventor, a Harvard-trained psychologist, used spanking, pinching, spraying water in the face, and breaking a vial of ammonia under the nose, which he said went out of favor because they were “politically incorrect.” [7] Yet, Eastgate said, it seems to be an irrational and cruel twist that electric shocking adolescents 77 times over a three-hour period using the GED is considered “politically correct.”

“Governments should be doing everything they can to demand the FDA do its job to protect Americans from this assault and from any form of electroshock therapy,” Eastgate further stated.[8]

To quote Special Rapporteur Mendez, the rights of intellectually disabled students subjected to “electric shock and physical means of restraints have been violated under the U.N. Convention against Torture and other international standards.”[9]

Cal Montgomery, a disability rights activist and writer, recently wrote that “the shocks hold a special place in the list of horrors to which people with intellectual and developmental disabilities are subjected in the name of ‘treatment.'”[10]

Jennifer Msumba, who has autism and was subjected to more than 230 electrical shocks at a Massachusetts facility, told CBS News that she “would ask God to make my heart stop because I didn’t want to live when that was happening to me. I just wanted to die and make it stop.”[11] Still, the FDA allows a device capable of producing such terror to remain on the market.

Electrical Shock Equates with Torture and Death

  • Shock procedures have been equated with the horror from the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, where Iraqi prisoners were electrocuted.[12] In 2008, Massachusetts Senator Brian A. Joyce condemned skin shocks, stating: “If we tried to apply this brutal device to a prisoner in Guantanamo or someone in Abu Ghraib, there would be worldwide outrage.” Further, “In fact, it’s against the Eighth Amendment in our country, right? Cruel and unusual punishment. But we allow it for these innocent children. It’s just not right.”[13]
  • In 2004, two U.S. marines pleaded guilty to giving electric shocks to an Iraqi prisoner and were sentenced to prison.[14] Yet, electric shock can be used as punishment with impunity on defenseless intellectually disabled residents in the U.S., CCHR says.
  • In 2017, a study published in History of Psychiatry described how a Nazi psychiatrist had “systematically” killed people with intellectual disabilities using an ECT machine in the 1940s. In Lower Austria, Dr. Emil Gelny modified an ECT machine, adding extra electrodes, which he fastened onto a victim’s wrists and ankles to administer lethal electric shocks.[15] The FDA reports that ECT can cause skin burns, physical trauma (including fractures, contusions, injury from falls, dental and oral injury), prolonged or delayed onset seizure, cardiovascular complications including heart attack, and even death.[16]
  • In April 2018, a coroner in Victoria, Australia, found that Gerard Helliar had received more than 200 ECT treatments with no evidence that it provided him any relief. After receiving the ECT, Helliar, who had no prior suicide attempts, he tried to hang himself and died after his life support system was turned off.[17] The coroner said there was a failure to deal with the risks linked to the increasingly intense ECT Helliar was subjected to.[18]
  • Professor John Read and Dr. Richard Bentall, in a review of ECT literature, found reports of ECT-related deaths as one per every 1,447 ECT recipients, while death rates for the elderly were 1 in 200. In another report cited, of 8,148 ECT recipients in Texas, seven died within 48 hours. Excluding the two “unlikely to have been related to ECT” this was a rate of one per 1,630. Eight more died within two weeks of “cardiac events.” If these are included, the rate was one per 627.[19] The researchers concluded that given the “strong evidence of persistent and, for some, permanent brain dysfunction” primarily evidenced as amnesia, and the “evidence of slight but significant increased risk of death, the cost-benefit analysis for ECT is so poor that its use cannot be scientifically justified.”[20]

Eastgate said the FDA’s failure to ban both shock devices — the GED and ECT machine — warrants urgent government action to stop the continued torture of vulnerable American citizens, especially children and adolescents.

For the above article footnotes see here.

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