A Massachusetts judge just ruled that a school in the state – the Judge Rotenberg Centre – can continue to use electroshock therapy on their special needs students. Judge Katherine Fields said the practice is an “accepted standard of care.” It is the only school in the United States that still allows this barbaric practice.
The controversial private school came under fire in 2012 after video surfaced of a disabled teen boy being tied up and shocked for seven hours by his teachers. Andre McCollin was strapped face down into a restraint board while wearing a helmet as his instructors proceeded to shock him 31 times.
“(The state) failed to demonstrate that there is now a professional consensus that the Level III aversive treatment used at JRC does not conform to the accepted standard of care for treating individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities,” Judge Field wrote in her June 20 ruling.
Students at the school are fitted with a shock device known as a Graduated Electronic Decelerator (GED). The GEDs are small gray square boxes made of hard plastic that are attached to students arms, legs or stomach by Velcro. Hanging from the boxes are wires that emit electrodes at 60 volts and 15 milliamps of electricity in two-second bursts.
A former JRC student, Jennifer Msumba, reported in video testimony used in an FDA hearing: “Crying was a behavior that I got in trouble for, so I had to cry in secret.” “I would ask God to make my heart stop because I didn’t want to live when that was happening to me,” she told CBS News. “I just wanted to die and make it stop.”
Another student reported she was shocked for yelling, swearing, getting out her seat without permission and grabbing others. The devices have also been reported to malfunction. One day after she got out of the shower the device shocked her 10 times.
Appalled to discover that children can be legally subjected to ECT in America I came across an article in Psychology Today by an ardent advocate of ECT for kids, Canadian professor Edward Shorter.
“Are we denying children access to a treatment that is safe and effective in adults?” he writes. “We deny children access to convulsive therapy because they are children. This is ageism in reverse, and terribly unfair.”
Complaining that some states ban ECT on kids he continues: “Legislative over-reach leaves one open-mouthed. The arrogance, the provincial, uninformed, know-nothing arrogance, defies the imagination. A lot of forces are in conspiracy against getting the kids better. The sanctimonious, patronizing rhetoric of “protection” is so thick it may be scraped off the walls.”
This astonishing diatribe prompted psychologist Dr. Toby Watson to respond with the science to debunk dangerous, Neanderthals like Shorter.
In 1979, the FDA categorized the ECT device as a Class III, high risk device, meaning that it’s benefits have not been shown to outweigh its risks, and that it presents a “potential unreasonable risk of injury or illness.” It ruled that brain damage and memory loss were risks of the procedure. Thirty plus years later and most recently within the past few years, the FDA upheld it’s decision to keep the Class III listing, as no evidence has accumulated to disprove these findings. Rather, there has been a stream of continued evidence in the research demonstrating significant harmful effects.
There are seventy years of reports of permanent extensive amnesia and memory dysfunction in a large percentage or majority of patients. Reviewing the evidence to date, in 1985 the NIMH Consensus Conference on ECT found that the average loss was eight months of life and that the majority of ECT patients had chronic memory impairment three years after “treatment”. Then in 2003, the first-ever systematic review of all the evidence to that date found at least 33% of ECT patients experienced permanent memory loss. An even more recent prospective study found that at least 45% of patients experienced permanent amnesia, and 40% reported loss of intelligence.
Researchers have mostly avoided conducting any long term, six months or longer studies, but whenever they have looked for permanent memory deficits, they have found them. There have been only two long term (e.g. six month) studies of amnesia done in the past 33 years, and both, despite serious methodological problems, show that permanent extensive amnesia is common.
In 1985, the NIMH found there was no evidence for any benefit of ECT lasting more than four weeks, and there are no studies since 1985 showing any longer benefit other than Huuhka, Viikki, Tammentie’s study published in the Journal of ECT in April 2012. Huuhka et al acknowledged the relapse rate of short term c/mECT for depressed patients is 40-60% even with anti-depressant medication continuing, and for patients with more severe pathology (e.g. schizophrenia, bipolar), patients were even more likely to relapse within 8-12 months.
Despite claims repeatedly made that ECT is safe and effective for severe depression and helps with suicide, research shows that ECT has no protective effect against suicide either in the short or long term.
In one of the very few studies ever performed, researchers in 1985 found that ECT patients committed suicide more frequently than those who had not received ECT, even when level of depression was taken into account.
Finally, researchers John Read and Richard Bentall, in a 2010 meta-analysis review of over 100 studies on the efficacy of ECT – “Given the strong evidence of persistent and for some, permanent brain dysfunction, primarily evidenced in the form of retrograde and anterograde amnesia, and the evidence of a slight but significant increased risk of death, the cost-benefit analysis for ECT is so poor that its use cannot be scientifically justified.”
Under the Code of Federal Regulation on Medical Device Reporting, an ECT device manufacturer must report to the FDA any incident where the device may have caused or contributed to a “death or serious injury.”
In the first three years of mandated reporting in Texas regarding electroshock use, 21 patients were reported as having died soon after receiving ECT.