Electro Shock ‘Therapy’ is again under attack in Australia. This brutal vestige of psychiatry’s troubled history is making a comeback. New figures obtained by the Citizen’s Committee on Human Rights show that Shock Therapy is far from fading quietly away, and is not yet banned as many Australians believe. In fact the numbers of people being subjected to this barbaric, brain frying punishment is actually on the rise.
Despite protests that the ‘treatment’ is now much safer, reliable reports from psychiatrists themselves state that it is just as dangerous as it ever was.
Certainly no other treatment in medical annals shows victim support groups all over the world protesting about a treatment as they do Electro Shock Treatment.
Electric shock ban mooted
CATHY O’LEARY MEDICAL EDITOR, The West Australian
November 28, 2009, 2:25 am
WA could be become the first State in Australia to ban the use of controversial electric shock treatment in troubled children under the age of 16.
Mental Health Minister Graham Jacobs said yesterday that while WA’s new Mental Health Act was still being drafted, he believed electroconvulsive therapy should not be given to children under 16, rather than a proposed under-12s cut-off.
ECT is used to treat a range of mental illnesses, including severe depression. It is given under a general anaesthetic and involves sending an electric current through the brain. Side-effects can include short-term memory loss and feelings of confusion.
Dr Jacobs’ comments came as the human rights watchdog Citizens Committee on Human Rights condemned the use of electric shock therapy in WA after figures revealed children as young as 11 received the treatment last financial year.
CCHR, a group set up by the Church of Scientology, called for WA’s new Act to ban the practice, which it says was used more than 1500 times across all ages in WA’s public and private hospitals in 2007-08.
Figures obtained by the group through Freedom of Information laws show that “fewer than five” children aged 11-15 were given ECT, while a similar number of 16-17-year-olds had the treatment.
The group has also obtained a copy of a now-withdrawn procedure manual from Graylands Hospital which warned staff that once the ECT machine was turned on, it was “as lethal as a loaded gun”.
The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists defends ECT in its guidelines, saying it is one of the least risky medical procedures carried out under general anaesthesia and is substantially less risky than childbirth. It says there is no conclusive evidence ECT causes damage to young brains and it is rarely given before puberty.
A review of WA’s 1996 Act recommended ECT be banned in children under 12 but Dr Jacobs said it appeared to be an arbitrary cut-off and he believed most people would want it to be higher.
“I think the feeling on the street among the mums and dads is that 12 is too young and it may well be that we look at the age of 16,” he said. “I know some people want it banned in all children and even adults but you don’t necessarily want to rule out what could be a useful treatment.
“The age is still under consideration but my feeling is that 16 seems a good point because it’s a reasonable age for consent, and that’s when you consent to sex and other medical treatments.”
CCHR executive director Shelley Wilkins said a ban in children under 16 would be welcomed but the treatment should be outlawed.
“Many people out on the street actually think it is banned and illegal, when its use across Australia is actually increasing,” she said.
“Children and the elderly are particularly vulnerable, and even the consent forms warn of memory loss.”
Electric shock therapy being used on troubled Victorian teenagers
ELECTRIC shock therapy is being used on deeply troubled Victorian teenagers in a last-ditch bid to cure their mental illness.
Documents obtained under Freedom of Information legislation reveal that eight juveniles and a further 107 young adults were given controversial electro-convulsive treatment in 2007-08.
The therapy has split the medical community, with some experts claiming it could harm children.
The revelations have put more pressure on Community Services Minister Lisa Neville, who is facing repeated calls for her resignation amid a continuing crisis in the state’s child protection system.
She insists the use of electric shocks to the brains of children was heavily regulated.
Victoria’s Chief Psychiatrist, Dr Ruth Vine, said: “The very few adolescents treated with ECT have severe mental illness that has not responded to other treatments – or need very urgent intervention for severe depression or acute psychosis.”
But Associate Prof Dr Nick Tonti-Filippini, of the health ethics committee of the National Health and Medical Research Council, said: “I regard the use of ECT on children as experimental. I’m concerned about the lack of evidence that it is safe.”
Department of Human Services documents obtained by the Herald Sun show 1815 mentally ill Victorians were treated with Electro-Convulsive Therapy in 2007-2008.
Eight of those were under 18, each treated an average of more than four times.
A further 107 aged 18 to 24 also underwent the treatment. And more than 270 Victorians over the age of 75 also received ECT.
The treatment is used only on severely ill patients and is heavily regulated by the Department of Human Services.
Patients sometimes suffer memory loss and confusion, and, in extreme cases, amnesia.
Dr Tonti-Filippini said: “Parents are not informed about the lack of safety evidence before they agree to let children undergo the treatment. I would like to see its use reviewed by a human research ethics committee.”
Shadow health minister Mary Wooldridge said the use of ECT was “disturbing”.