Camouflaging Electroshock Assault as “Therapy”—A legacy from the Nuremberg Doctors’ Trials Defense Ploy

In January 2011, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) held a Neurological Devices Review Panel Hearing into electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) or electroshock. The FDA and panel couched electroshock in terms of a “standard medical practice.”

In a fifth article in a series on ECT, mental health watchdog, Citizens Commission on Human Rights International (CCHR), discusses how psychiatrists have misled the FDA, Congress and State Legislatures about the torture and brutality of electroshock—much the same way as Nazi psychiatrists and medical doctors covered up their medical crimes as “standard practice.”

ECT involves hundreds of volts of electricity sent coursing through the brain and body causing a grand mal seizure and damage attendant with seizures. Dr. Moira Dolan, an Internal Medicine physician in Texas with 30 years of medical experience and has advised on ECT, says: “there is abundant evidence that repeated seizures can be brain damaging, no matter how they come about. Seizures cause acute as well as chronically damaging inflammatory reactions in the brain.”

The late Dr. Thomas Szasz, professor of psychiatry and co-founder of CCHR, said: “And if some doctors harm—torture rather than treat, murder the soul rather than minister to the body—that is, in part, because society, through the state, ask them, and pays them, to do so.

“We saw it happen in Nazi Germany, and we hanged many of the doctors.  We see it happen in the Soviet Union, and we denounce the doctors with righteous indignation. “But when will we see that the same things are happening in the so-called free societies? When will we recognize—and publicly identify—the medical criminals among us?”

That identification should extend not only to the psychiatrists administering ECT, but also to the medical facilities that provide for it and those advising individuals within the FDA that have sanctioned it.

Through propaganda, ECT is a “generally accepted” practice within the field of “medicine” and is likely why it is accepted as treatment rather than assault. As Nazi propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels once stated: “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.”[1]

Advice Nazi psychiatrists and doctors took to heart to escape prosecution in the Nuremberg Trials over their use of sterilization—by making sterilization seem like “normal medical practice.”

Nazi doctors sterilized about 350,000 people against their will. Over 6,000 died as a consequence of the operations.[2] In medical experiments, men were sterilized with massive, burning doses of X-rays and radiation was used on women.[3] But according to Robert N. Proctor, author of Racial Hygiene, Medicine under the Nazis, “authorities were unable to classify the sterilizations as war crimes, because similar [sterilization] laws” had been upheld in the United States.[4]

This would also have been the case had Nazi psychiatry’s use of electroshock been brought to trial. The history of ‘electroshock therapy’ in the Third Reich “is still a neglected chapter in medical history,” according to researchers Lara Rzesbutzek and Sascha Lang, writing in the Medical History journal in 2017. Within the Third Reich, the authors wrote, “electroshock therapy was not only introduced in psychiatric hospitals, asylums, and in the Auschwitz concentration camp in order to get patients back to work, it was also modified for ‘euthanasia’ murder.” An electroshock apparatus was constructed at the concentration camp Auschwitz III, the working camp of the IG Farben-Werk in Monowitz, in 1944. This was under by SS camp physicians Eduard Wirths and Horst Fischer. Used on inmates, electroshock was demonstrated to “make emotionally disturbed people fit for work again.”[5]

After the war, it also became known that in Austria, an electroshock device had been used for “euthanasia” murder. Psychiatric inpatients had been personally killed by physician Emil Gelny, medical director for the Lower-Austria.[6] Authors of “Mass killing under the guise of ECT: the darkest chapter in the history of biological psychiatry,” published in the journal History of Psychiatry in 2017[7], many psychiatrists actively participated in the extermination of “treatment-resistant patients,” and “none with more murderous enthusiasm than Dr. Emil Gelny.” Gelny added four extra electrodes to existing ECT machines, which were attached to patients’ wrists and ankles to deliver the lethal shocks after patients were knocked unconscious by the initial current applied to the head. “ECT could be camouflaged as a medical procedure to reduce patients’ suspicion, at a time when many correctly feared that drugs were used to kill them,” the authors wrote.[8]  (When the war ended, the bulk of the criminal prosecutions in Austria were dealt with by the Volksgerichte [‘People’s Courts’]. Gelny managed to escape to Syria and later Iraq, where he died in 1961.[9])

Another electroshock enthusiast was Dr. Carl Schneider, a professor of psychiatry, who directed the Nazi racial policy office and was a member of the Reich Committee. On 1 April 1940, he became a T-4 expert.[10] He was in charge of running the T4 research department in Gorden.[11] T4 was named after the street named Tiergartenstrasse in Berlin that housed the euthanasia program under disingenuously called “Working Association of Sanitariums and Care taking Facilities of the Republic.”[12] T4 money was obtained not only from the assets of murder victims but also from the gold of their teeth.[13] By January 1941, Schneider and his chief physician, Konrad Zucker, had hatched a “Psychiatric Research Plan.” Mass examinations were to assist in researching, among other things, physical chemistry of the brain, pathology etc.[14] In May 1942, Anton Edler von Braunmiihl, who is known in psychiatric history as a theorist in shock therapy, wrote a paper for T4 on the “new treatment methods” available, such as electroshock. The provision of asylums with electroshock equipment, which his paper advocated, was later pursued by T4, the Reich Commission, and the Fuhrer’s Office as particularly “important to the war effort.” In 1943 and 1944, nearly all public asylums received ECT equipment.[15] In 1941, Dr. Schneider wrote: “We find ourselves at a decisive point in psychiatry in general. Psychiatry has finally cast aside therapeutic nihilism [rejection of established beliefs, as in religion, morals], which the historian may regard as the belated remains of ancient spiritual and demonic beliefs, and has accepted therapeutic experience as the only means of exorcising psychoses.”[16] It was asserted that modern therapy and euthanasia saved money, which Schneider hoped would be used for further psychiatric research.[17]

Another psychiatrist, Friedrich Wilhelm Mennecke, was also appointed to the euthanasia program.[18] At Eichberg State Mental Hospital, he introduced electroshock. His victims, mainly children, were authorized for “therapeutic extermination” through overdoses of medication. After they were murdered, their brains were used for research in cooperation with the Heidelberg University Neurological and Psychiatric Clinic headed by Prof. Schneider.[19]

Dr. Friedrich Panse was a military district psychiatrist and in 1940 became a T4 consultant. A propaganda film about euthanasia that was produced by the Reich was based on one of Panse’s ideas. In 1942, the treatment and cure of war-neurotics, using a form of electroshock, was named after him and called “pansen.” It involved very painful stimulations of electrical currents applied to large sections of the skin using a roller. War neurotics in Panse’s mind, meant that they had “psychopathy with the purpose of surreptitiously obtaining pensions and compensations.” In other words, Panse believed soldiers faked being traumatized by the war. In 1947, he was acquitted of wartime collaboration with the Nazis; however, he was never even called upon to explain his actions as a psychiatrist or to account for his methodologies, including electroshock.[20]

With the end of the war looking imminent, in July 1943, Professors Ernst Rudin (psychiatrist who helped write Nazi Germany’s sterilization law in 1933), Carl Schneider and Professor Hans Heinz, director of Brandenburg-Gorden Asylum, where patients, including children were gassed to death,[21] wrote the report, “Ideas and Suggestions on the Future of Psychiatry,” hoping to salvage their “constructive” ideas before the uncertain end of the war. Despite the murder of more than 300,000 “mental patients” through the T4 euthanasia program[22], the authors wrote, “psychiatry today is a healing discipline in the truest sense of the word,” referring also to its use of electroshock, among other “therapies.” “Above all, however, the psychiatrist in the National Socialist state has fundamental responsibilities concerning methodological registration of and research on the genetic health of the German people, as well as prevention of hereditary illnesses. Psychiatry must not only take an active role in this, but must educate the medical profession in general….” they wrote.[23]

Further, “Everything must be done to combat the frequent denigration of the psychiatric profession, and to emphasize, in contrast, the importance and the scientific as well as practical value of psychiatry.”[24]

Had Nazi psychiatrists been held accountable for their sterilization and use of electroshock—along with their murders—perhaps both practices would not have survived as a “legitimate” psychiatric practice.

Since then electrical shock has been used for torturing political dissidents, such as is in China, or inflicted upon prisoners of war (Abu Ghraib in Iraq), which the United Nations (UN) classified as torture stating, “The use of electroshocks on prisoners has been found to constitute torture or ill-treatment.”[25] Yet, patients are today subjected to electroshock in psychiatric institutions, the difference being they are first put into drug-induced unconsciousness before the electricity courses through the brain causing convulsions in the body—with anesthetics masking the torture.

ECT must be prohibited as a mental health practice. More than 90,000 people have signed CCHR’s online petition to ban electroshock. More are encouraged to sign and to report any incident of ECT damage to CCHR.

References:

[1] https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/joseph-goebbels-on-the-quot-big-lie-quot

[2] Frank Schneider, “Psychiatry under National Socialism: Remembrance and Responsibility,” European Archives of Psychiatry and Clinical Neuroscience 11 Nov. 2011, https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00406-011-0243-1; https://www.cchr.org/documentaries/age-of-fear/psychiatrists-admission-to-holocaust.html.

[3] http://www.qcc.cuny.edu/socialsciences/ppecorino/MEDICAL_ETHICS_TEXT/Chapter_7_Human_Experimentation/Reading-Nazi-experimentation.htm.

[4] Robert N. Proctor, Racial Hygiene, Medicine Under the Nazis, (Harvard University Press, 1988), p. 117

[5] Lara Rzesnitzek  and Sascha Lang, ‘Electroshock Therapy’ in the Third Reich,” Med Hist. 2017 Jan; 61(1): 66–88, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5206950/

[6] Lara Rzesnitzek  and Sascha Lang, ‘Electroshock Therapy’ in the Third Reich,” Med Hist. 2017 Jan; 61(1): 66–88, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5206950/

[7] Kate Wheeling, “How Electroconvulsive Therapy Became a Nazi Weapon,” Pacific Standard, 25 Aug. 2017, https://psmag.com/news/nazis-ruin-everything citing: Gazdag G, Ungvari GS Czech H, “Mass killing under the guise of ECT: the darkest chapter in the history of biological psychiatry,” History of Psychiatry, Dec;28(4):482-488. doi: 10.1177/0957154X17724037. Epub 2017 Aug 22; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28829187

[8] Kate Wheeling, “How Electroconvulsive Therapy Became a Nazi Weapon,” Pacific Standard, 25 Aug. 2017, https://psmag.com/news/nazis-ruin-everything citing: Gazdag G, Ungvari GS Czech H, “Mass killing under the guise of ECT: the darkest chapter in the history of biological psychiatry,” History of Psychiatry, Dec;28(4):482-488. doi: 10.1177/0957154X17724037. Epub 2017 Aug 22; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28829187

[9] Wien Klin Wochenschr, “Medical Ethics in the 70 Years after the Nuremberg Code, 1947 to the Present,” The Central European Journal of Medicine130, (2018):S159–S253, https://doi.org/10.1007/s00508-018-1343-y.

[10] Gotz Aly, Peter Chroust and Christian Pross, Cleansing of the Fatherland, Nazi Medicine and Racial Hygiene, (The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994), pp. 205-207.

[11] Gotz Aly, Peter Chroust and Christian Pross, Cleansing of the Fatherland, Nazi Medicine and Racial Hygiene, (The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994), p. 212.

[12] Toby Burwell, et al., Psychiatrists: The Men Behind Hitler (Freedom Publishers, LA, 1995), p. 54.

[13] Gotz Aly, Peter Chroust and Christian Pross, Cleansing of the Fatherland, Nazi Medicine and Racial Hygiene, (The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994), p. 177.

[14] Gotz Aly, Peter Chroust and Christian Pross, Cleansing of the Fatherland, Nazi Medicine and Racial Hygiene, (The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994), pp. 205-207.

[15] Gotz Aly, Peter Chroust and Christian Pross, Cleansing of the Fatherland, Nazi Medicine and Racial Hygiene, (The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994), pp. 203-205.

[16] Gotz Aly, Peter Chroust and Christian Pross, Cleansing of the Fatherland, Nazi Medicine and Racial Hygiene, (The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994), p. 207.

[17] Gotz Aly, Peter Chroust and Christian Pross, Cleansing of the Fatherland, Nazi Medicine and Racial Hygiene, (The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994), p. 209.

[18] Robert N. Proctor, Racial Hygiene, Medicine Under the Nazis, (Harvard University Press, 1988), pp. 208-209.

[19] Gotz Aly, Peter Chroust and Christian Pross, Cleansing of the Fatherland, Nazi Medicine and Racial Hygiene, (The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994), p 244.

[20] Toby Burwell, et al., Psychiatrists: The Men Behind Hitler (Freedom Publishers, LA, 1995), pp. 11, 113.

[21] Gotz Aly, Peter Chroust and Christian Pross, Cleansing of the Fatherland, Nazi Medicine and Racial Hygiene, (The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994), pp. 194, 195, 225.

[22] Colin A. Ross, “War Against the Mind,” PsychicAssault.org.

[23] Gotz Aly, Peter Chroust and Christian Pross, Cleansing of the Fatherland, Nazi Medicine and Racial Hygiene, (The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994), p. 196-197.

[24] Gotz Aly, Peter Chroust and Christian Pross, Cleansing of the Fatherland, Nazi Medicine and Racial Hygiene, (The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994), p. 198.

[25] United Nations General Assembly, Sixty third session, Item 67 (a) of the provisional agenda, Promotion and protection of human rights: implementation of human rights instruments, A/63/175, 28 Jul 2008, pg. 15, www.un.org/disabilities/images/A.63.175.doc

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