Almost 6 years ago the FDA explored whether psychiatric electroshock machines should be considered to have the same risk to patients as powered wheelchairs and air purifiers.
In January of 2011 an FDA advisory panel held an open hearing in which both psychiatrists in favor of ECT treatments and citizens opposed to ECT gave their arguments for or against lowering the FDA Classification from Class III (High Risk) to Class II (Moderate Risk).
Class III is required if the device has the potential for “impairment of human health” or if it might “present a potential or unreasonable risk of illness or injury”.
Massive evidence was presented to the panel indicating that indeed ECT machines should never be moved to Class II status which would lead to an influx of new manufacturers.[i]
Although psychiatrists eagerly anticipated a Class II ruling, the FDA panel voted in 2011 to keep the machines at Class lll.
Why Even the FDA Was Forced to Admit ECT Machines are High Risk
Perhaps these heart wrenching personal stories that were told or read aloud to the group managed to get through the emotional walls surrounding the FDA panel members and caused a moment of human decency. If not subjected to the pressure and lobbying money of big pharmaceutical groups, the FDA might have banned the machines altogether upon hearing these chilling reports:
“Destroyed memories have altered my life for the remainder of my life. Furthermore, memory loss is documented numerous times in my medical record as memory deficits, noted apparent, substantial. Pain is also documented multiple times after receiving electroshock. When electroshock is administered, it produces a grand mal seizure. In the aftermath, the individual appears zombie-like, as witnessed time after time by my family members and friends.” Loretta Wilson
• “In 1963, I was forced to endure 85 shock procedures, that’s 50 insulin comas and 35 electroshocks. As a result, my memory for the preceding three years was obliterated. In addition, my high school and college educations were effectively destroyed. Every part of me, spiritual, intellectual, emotional, and physical, was less than what it would have been. I believe I never recovered fully from these repeated brain assaults. They rendered my life since then considerably less abundant.” Leonard Roy Frank
• “I had over 80 shock treatments and, yes, they called them maintenance treatments, but I don’t remember my wedding day. I don’t remember putting the ring on my finger.
I’m also a college graduate with a bachelor’s in science from Grand Canyon University in Phoenix, Arizona, and I don’t remember any of that. I do remember my anatomy and physiology class and unzipping a cadaver and little bits and pieces, but I don’t remember details. I also was a professional athlete. I competed in the Hawaiian Ironman and finished. I don’t remember finishing, but I know I have a metal that says I did. I have boxes of trophies that I tell my husband to go ahead and put in the attic because when I open those boxes and pull out a trophy and it has my name on it, I don’t know who that person is. I know it’s mine, but there’s a separation between that person because I don’t have the feelings or remember the feelings or the events or the traveling I did when I was sponsored as an athlete.” Barbara Winkler
• “My sister has informed me that the psychiatrist described ECT treatment as safe with only a loss of memory of the day of the treatment which would return shortly thereafter. I say my sister told me that because I have no recollection of any conversation with the psychiatrist concerning ECT. Never did it occur to me that anything that a so-called professional recommended would be harmful to me. I have no memory of the meeting or any events thereafter.
“I was subjected to six months of numerous treatments. During my course of treatment, my emotional, physical, and cognitive health severely declined.
“My family has informed me, because I have no recollection, that when I was released from the hospital after treatment, I could not be left alone as I would wander off somewhere and become lost. I often could not tell you my name and the names of any of my children. I lost not only my memories of the time I was subjected to this torture, but I was robbed of almost all memories from 2003, two years before the treatment, to 2008, three years after the treatment stopped. I was unable to converse or write coherently because my word recall was so limited, just like someone who had had a stroke. Taking care of many of my everyday needs was beyond me. In fact, one of my sisters had to take charge of my bank account. I could no longer drive or go to the mailbox alone.
“I’ve fought long and hard over the last several years to recover from the effects of this abuse and rebuild my life. However, I will never recover the part of myself that was stolen from me which consisted of my memories. Because of these lasting effects, I have, as of yet, been unable to return to my chosen profession of teaching. I’m training for a new job, but it remains a struggle for me each and every day to learn new tasks.” Evelyn Scogin
• “Shock killed me. At least it killed 16 years of my life as if I had never lived them. As a 24-year-old mother of a beautiful baby boy, I had postpartum depression and my husband convinced me to see a psychiatrist. He recommended ECT and told us that it was safe and effective. Against my will, I was repeatedly shocked. After shock, I didn’t know my husband or my baby. Shock had wiped out all my memory of my family. In fact, it wiped out everything but the first eight years of my life. My husband filed for divorce and disappeared with our son. I didn’t find him until he was seven years of age. By that time, I had missed all the bonding years with him. I missed picking him up when he fell, reading him bedtime stories, cuddling him when he had a nightmare. ECT robbed me of my chance to experience the joy that a mother feels as she watches her child grow, and my son was robbed of his mother. Today he’s a grown man, and our relationship is minimal at best. I have almost no relationship with my grandchildren who I so desperately want to be a grandmother to.
“On the outside I look pretty normal, but you don’t live with me. One, I have Post-It notes all over my house telling me what to do and when to do it. Two, my cabinets and drawers have labels everywhere so I know where things go. Three, it takes me forever to learn something new. Four, I can’t hold down a job because I get mixed up so much. Five, without this Day-Timer, I can’t function day to day. Six, and worst of all, I live with the fear of having seizures anytime and anywhere, something I’ll have to live with all my life thanks to ECT. Would you like to live with this?” Dianna Posthauer
• “When I was 19 years old, I became sad and lonely, and I tried to kill myself. I took a half a bottle of aspirin, my parents took me to the Massachusetts General Hospital, and thus began my three-year hellish odyssey as a prisoner in the horrors of the mental health system. I was diagnosed with schizophrenia and given 50 shock treatments against my will, 40 insulin comas and 10 superimposed electroshocks.
“… I would wake up with a violent headache and nausea. My mind was blurred. I permanently lost eight months of my memory for events preceding the shock. I also lost my self-esteem. I had been crushed as flat as a pancake
“…The ECT was a violent and damaging assault on my brain and my very soul. It made me emotionally worse, not better. I became catatonic and desperately in fear for my life. To this day, I have great trouble staying focused in a conversation, keeping my train of thought. I forever lost the ability to do math in my head, and before this time, I had been a very good student. When I was given an IQ test a few months after the ECT and asked the population of the United States, I answered 1,000. When he asked me to guess again, I answered 2,000. I remember having no idea where to find the answer in my head.
“For me, in addition to losing my train of thought, the most troubling residual effect has been the memories of those traumatic mornings, the violent and abusive assaults on my brain.” Dorothy Dundas
• “I don’t have a memory. I don’t know if it’s because I argued with a psychiatrist and he dumped me in the locked ward and shocked me five times. I became violent. I tore my nails off grabbing onto the door, and he said after five times, he says, sometimes they don’t help people.” Donald Johnson
Stop Torture in the Name of Help
In July of 2015 the US House of Representatives passed HR 6 The 21st Century Cures Act. Buried in the better aspects of the bill is a chance for these same ECT machines to be considered ok and safe for wide distribution.
The US Senate is considering bringing this bill to a vote before the new Congress is seated in 2017. This bill needs to be re-written so that the psychiatrist’s shock machines cannot ride in on the coattails of new medical advances that actually help people.
Many Americans falsely believe these ECT machines were banned years ago. We should let Congress know it is time to actually ban them, not give them a new lease on life.