Dublin, 2 October 2007 — The Wellbeing Foundation announced that it has today re-published on its website a comprehensive body of scientific evidence showing that electroconvulsive therapy — electroshock or ECT — is ineffective and causes both short and long term cognitive and intellectual damage to those administered it.
The publication of the papers is a public service, aimed at enhancing the current debate on ECT and the rules governing its use. Last June two Green Party senators, Deirdre de Burca and Dan Boyle, together with independent senator David Norris, introduced a Bill in the Seanad to ban the use of ECT against a patient’s will. Since then the usual crew of institutional psychiatrists has defended the use of ECT and has claimed both that it is effective and does not cause any long term impairment in those it is administered to, in complete defiance of the evidence.
In fact, electroconvulsive therapy is no therapy at all. That is the clear conclusion from research carried out by leading figures in the field.
Anti-ECT campaigners, whether lay people or qualified doctors, have been vilified by certain supporters of ECT in the psychiatric profession and accused of producing no evidence to support their claims that ECT is both damaging and ineffective. Here, then, is that evidence, and it is safe to say that this evidence comes from professionals far more eminent in their field than any of our critics here in Ireland.
Most of this evidence has been available to professionals and the curious public for over a year. For example, the first scientific paper we reproduce, ‘The Cognitive Effects of Electroconvulsive Therapy in Community Settings’, was published in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology in 2007. One dates from 1998, the others from 2005, 2006 and again 2007. One might be tempted to think, from the subsequent contributions by certain Irish psychiatrists, that the latter are ignorant of this important research or have not read and evaluated it.
One of the notable things about the the first paper mentioned is that its lead author, Harold J Sackheim, is a prominent advocate of the medical model and of the school of biological psychiatry, a school whose very basis we question. Dr Sackheim has for many years been a leading advocate of ECT. Yet in this paper he comes as close as one could expect to a public recantation of his previous views. Dr Sackheim, to his credit, has led a team which collected evidence, solid, empirical evidence, of the cognitive impairments (read: memory loss and intellectual impairment) caused by ECT even in its ‘least worst’ form. And Dr Sackheim has taken account of that evidence — he now rejects, at the very least, the widespread use of ECT, and more particularly the use of most forms of ECT (certainly those widely used here in Ireland).
This gamekeeper has turned poacher. Would that his Irish colleagues take note, and even follow suit.
The other papers are as valuable, and all give evidence supporting and bolstering our view that ECT is medically dangerous and should be banned. The earliest is Dr Peter Breggin’s famous study from 1998, ‘Electroshock: scientiﬁc, ethical, and political issues’, published in the International Journal of Risk and Safety in Medicine.
‘Patients’ perspectives on electroconvulsive therapy: a systematic review’ was published in the British Medical Journal in January 2005; ‘Memory and cognitive effects of ECT: informing and assessing patients’ in Advances in Psychiatric Treatment’ in 2006; ‘Cognitive rehabilitation: assessment and treatment of persistent memory impairments following ECT’ in the same journal in 2007; and we include, for its inherent interest and for providing some profound insights by those on the sharp end, ‘The Electroshock Quotationary’ by Leonard Roy Frank, published in June 2006.
Most institutional psychiatrists in Ireland have been too fond of claiming that their profession is united in advocating ECT and in rejecting accusations that it damages mental and intellectual functioning in several serious ways. This is simply not true: their profession, at least elsewhere, is seriously divided on this issue and cannot agree either on the efficacy of ECT or its serious effects. The evidence is clear.
In such circumstances, the politicians who will shortly return to the debate on the senators’ Bill to ban involuntary electroshock should consider primarily the political, ethical and human rights aspects of the current ECT regime in our mental health system and avoid the medical debate. Even if they were to conduct hearings into the medical arguments, with evidence from all camps (including patient groups and ‘consumer’ advocates), it would most likely be fruitless — a rabbit hole of metaphysical claim and counter-claim from which they might not ever return.
The issue should be decided on one criterion — do current rules on the administration of ECT conform even to the minimum standards required to uphold the human rights of the patient? The answer to this is clearly NO — and on that basis, and that basis alone, the senators’ bill to ban involuntary ECT should be passed.
For more information or for interviews with a Wellbeing representative, contact Basil Miller (086 8182082).
The scientific papers can be downloaded as pdf files form our website: links are on the home page