Electroshock: Consumer Fraud and Brain Damage

In the second part of a series of public awareness articles posted on TruthAboutECT.org, Jan Eastgate, the president of mental health industry watchdog, Citizens Commission on Human Rights International, continues to explore the cover-up of the dangers of psychiatric electroshock treatment, or electroconvulsive therapy (ECT).

While healthcare fraud can involve the filing of dishonest medical claims in order to turn a profit, in legal terms, fraud also involves intentional deception or deliberate misrepresentation to secure money or privilege. When it comes to the promotion or advocacy of electroshock treatment—the passage of up to 460 volts of electricity through the brain—the information constitutes all of this as well as dishonesty and trickery.

Indeed, telling patients and their families that ECT is “safe and effective” with transient minimal side effects or asserting that battering the brain with electricity doesn’t damage it, arguably should constitute consumer fraud. Such misleading claims entice consumers to undergo an ineffective, and more importantly, a dangerous psychiatric procedure that doesn’t cure.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)—knowing this information—has allowed ECT devices to remain on the market without the manufacturers ever providing clinical trials to prove safety and efficacy. With a long-running incestuous relationship between FDA and the American Psychiatric Association (APA), the FDA also removed brain damage as an adverse effect of ECT.

Asserting that ECT does not cause brain damage is akin to removing “death” as an adverse effect of Zyklon B, when discussing the history of mass murder in the Nazi gas chambers. There would be public outrage, but in the case of brain-damaging and potentially lethal ECT, few know of the FDA’s deception.

In a 13-page response to several attorneys who challenged the FDA’s stance on ECT and its omission of brain damage, FDA accorded no more than two sentences to such an important issue. In its defense, it deferred to a January 2011 FDA Neurological Devices Review Panel and public hearing on ECT, in which it claimed there was no “proof of brain damage as a potential risk.”

Having attended that hearing, this is but another example of the FDA’s deceptiveness, putting the psychiatric industry’s interest before patient safety. The panel’s discussion of brain damage essentially claimed that “modern technology” may not have confirmed what earlier studies had proved.

For example:

  • Jane S. Paulsen, Professor of Neurology and Psychiatry at the University of Iowa didn’t “believe” that “we need to indicate brain damage as a potential risk associated with ECT.” Why? “I don’t think they have sufficient research using the latest, greatest techniques…we don’t know if there may be evidence of this using more cutting-edge techniques, but I don’t think we have any indication that that exists with the current data.”[1]
  • Christopher Ross, Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Johns Hopkins Medicine said: “ECT induces changes in the brain, which may relate to the therapeutic effects, but that there’s no clear evidence for any ‘brain damage’ caused by ECT….”[2] [emphasis added]
  • Kevin Duff, Ph.D., a neuropsychologist and Associate Professor in the Department of Neurology at the University of Utah noted that “changes in cognition” following ECT have “to represent something” but “maybe it’s that we don’t have the technology yet or we don’t have the studies, but there’s something.…”[3]
  • William M. McDonald, Professor of Psychiatry at Emory University, asserted: “I think there is evidence of brain changes but not of brain damage….”[4] McDonald has received research support from and been a consultant for Neuronetics (brain stimulation device manufacturer).[5] He’s had stock or other financial options with five pharmaceutical companies.[6] In 2012, he received $26,373 from Medicare for ECT. In 2013, another $23,124 for ECT and in 2014, a further $31,400, nearly all of which ($30,720) was for ECT—more than $80,000 in electroshock income during a three-year period.[7]
  • Dr. Allison Komiyama, Ph.D., neurobiologist, who worked at the time in the FDA’s Office of Device Evaluation, conceded: “Brain injury by indirect means from ECT-induced seizures is an obvious safety concern, and recent research is aimed to understand both the gross and microscopic changes that occur in the brain due to ECT.”[8]

The FDA advisory panel hearing—comprising numerous psychiatrists with a vested interest in keeping ECT on the market—never established that brain damage did not occur. It simply didn’t think it had the “evidence” using current technology to figure it out one way or another. This was just opinion added to the already more than 50 different psychiatric theories unsuccessfully trying to explain exactly what electroshock therapy does to patients.[9]

After 80 years of use, and billions of dollars spent on ECT research, psychiatrists admit they still do not know how ECT “works.”[10] Neither is it a cure. But its delivery rakes in up to $5.4 billion in the U.S. alone each year. In 2016, individual psychiatrists were given more than $10 million Medicare dollars alone to electroshock, mainly the elderly—putting them at premature risk of death.[11] That is a lucrative industry that is being protected at the cost of patients’ minds and lives.

The FDA never demanded studies from the device manufacturers in order to ensure Americans are not being subjected to a devastating brain-damaging procedure. Nor to assure, through clinical trials, that brain damage is no longer an adverse effect.

Rather, FDA stated, “Even if the ECT device presents a potential unreasonable risk of illness or injury, FDA may still reclassify the device from class III [high risk] to II [lower risk, not requiring clinical trials proving safety and efficacy]….” On December 28, 2018, FDA did exactly that.

It didn’t address with the manufacturers and devoted ECT psychiatrists advising it what experts such as Dr. Ken Castleman, Ph.D., a biomedical engineer, and neurologist Dr. Peter Sterling have raised as proof of brain damage.

Castleman said: “ECT-induced structural brain trauma can be detected objectively by direct microscopic examination of brain tissue following treatment. Such damage is often too subtle to be detected by indirect methods.  But the majority of published scientific studies seeking to evaluate ECT-induced brain damage use indirect methods such as computed tomography brain imaging, magnetic resonance imaging, proton magnetic resonance spectroscopic imaging….These techniques have limited resolution, do not look at brain cells directly, and thus can detect only relatively large changes in the brain.”[12]

ECT induces a grand mal seizure. Most neurologists regard it as self-evident that epileptic seizures cause brain damage and that all injury to an intact brain is harmful.[13] Fred Baughman, Jr., M.D., an eminent retired neurologist, says: “Throughout the more than three decades of my neurological practice I have encountered patients treated with ECT who had permanent erasures of parts of their memory.  Think of the extent of memory loss not immediately evident in these and in all patients.  For their own selfish reasons, psychiatrists may wish to call ECT and such end-results ‘therapeutic’ but they never achieve anything but to diminish adaptability in the broadest sense and cannot be called ‘therapeutic’ or medically justifiable.”[14]

Tens of thousands of people have signed CCHR’s online petition to ban electroshock. More are encouraged to sign this and to report any incident of ECT damage to CCHR.


[1] FDA Hearing on ECT, “Center For Devices and Radiological Health Medical Devices Advisory Committee, Neurological Devices Panel,” 28 Jan. 2011, pp. 413, 414,  https://www.fda.gov/ucm/groups/fdagov-public/@fdagov-afda-adcom/documents/document/ucm247595.pdf

[2] Ibid., p. 268.

[3] Ibid., p. 416.

[4] Ibid., p. 416.

[5] American Psychiatric Association, 163rd Annual Meeting, New Orleans, LA, May 22-26, 2010, Program Book, p. 40; American Psychiatric Association, 162nd Annual Meeting, San Francisco, Shaping Our Future: Science and Service, May 16-21, 2009, Program Book, p. xxxii; American Psychiatric Association, 162nd Annual Meeting, San Francisco, Shaping Our Future: Science and Service, May 16-21, 2009, Program Book, p. xxxii.

[6] American Psychiatric Association, 2005 Annual Meeting, Program Book, p. xxix.

[7] https://projects.propublica.org/treatment/doctors/1689765844.

[8] Op. cit., FDA Hearing on ECT, 27 Jan. 2011,  p. 166..

[9] Jim Stratton, “Shock Treatment,” Daily Press, 13 Aug. 1995, https://www.dailypress.com/news/dp-xpm-19950813-1995-08-13-9508110242-story.html.

[10] http://psychnews.psychiatryonline.org/doi/full/10.1176/appi.pn.2016.4b2.

[11] John Read, Richard Bentall, “The effectiveness of electroconvulsive therapy:  a literature review,” Epedmiology e Psychoatrie Sociale, 19, 4, 201, p. 341.

[12] Expert Report on Electroconvulsive Therapy by Kenneth R. Castleman, PhD, 9 Sept. 2018.

[13] Thomas Szasz, M.D., Coercion as Cure: A Critical History of Psychiatry,(Transaction Publications, 2010) p. 135, https://books.google.com/books?id=hYdLS6qyTwUC&pg=PA135&lpg=PA135&dq=%22The+association+for+convulsive+therapy%22+was+formed+in&source=bl&ots=rZXckU2m7I&sig=CGQukDAAWkHmVCY_uG-Nf6OqHWU&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiTm7DM38PLAhVW6WMKHaIiAro4ChDoAQhCMAk#v=onepage&q=%22The%20association%20for%20convulsive%20therapy%22%20was%20formed%20in&f=false.

[14] http://behaviorismandmentalhealth.com/2013/03/27/shock-treatment-is-not-safe-and-provides-little-if-any-benefit/.

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