Electroshock: The Redefinition of Assault and Battery as “Therapy” and Torture as Treatment

In a five-part series for TruthAboutECT.org, Jan Eastgate, President of Citizens Commission on Human Rights International, gives the reasons why the mental health industry watchdog demands a ban of electroshock treatment.

With CCHR’s 50 years of investigating the irreversible harm that electroshock treatment (ECT) can cause, it is unequivocal that the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) decision in December 2018 to omit brain damage as a side effect of ECT is misleading and endangers lives. It did so without explanation and with the deception as adept as magician Harry Houdini making a 10,000-pound elephant disappear behind a curtain.  The elephant didn’t disappear and neither has electroshock’s brain damage.

The American Psychiatric Association (APA) recommended that brain damage be removed from the ECT consent form. Had the FDA disagreed and recognized that up to 460 volts of electricity sent searing through the brain is a very bad idea, electroshock could be seen for what it is—arguably assault disguised as “therapy” and torture passed off as “treatment.”

The fact that something as brutal as electroshock even exists in mental health practice today shows the power of marketing, propaganda and vested interests. In the case of patients who have been prescribed mind-altering drugs that for years have failed to alleviate and most likely exacerbated their life’s problems and emotional upheavals, they’ve been misled into believing that electroshock delivered while they are “asleep” (under anesthetic) is safe and can help.  FDA has never obtained clinical trials from the manufacturers proving the safety and efficacy of the ECT device.

Willfully inflicting brain damage should constitute assault and battery. These are two violent crimes that involve causing harm to a person.

Australian judge, the late Justice John Slattery determined that ECT without patients’ consent or after obtaining consent by use of fraud and deceit commits “a trespass to the person” and is “responsible for an assault on them.”[1]

Los Angeles attorney David Karen represented consumers alleged to have experienced brain damage from an electroshock device the FDA has allowed to remain on the market. Karen wrote: “In October of 2018, in Riera v. Somatics, LLC, the United States District Court for the Central District of California ruled that there was sufficient evidence for a reasonable jury to find that the prominent manufacturer of ECT devices, Somatics, LLC, caused brain injury in the plaintiffs by failing to warn their treating physicians of the risk of brain injury associated with ECT, and also through a failure to investigate and report to the FDA complaints of brain damage and death resulting from ECT.”[2]

Somatics Inc. settled the case and then posted on its website that ECT may cause permanent brain damage.[3]

“Clearly the new Somatics disclosures were designed to attempt to create a shield against claims for ECT-related injuries going forward,” Karen said. “However, the disclosures may actually cement liability for the manufacturers for their failure to disclose of this known risk for ALL ECT patients undergoing ECT in the past. Given the ECT industry’s steadfast denial of any long-term damage caused by ECT (for over the past fifty years), the ‘new’ disclosure would now seem to be a blessing for all potential ECT Plaintiffs” who should legally be allowed to proceed with suits, regardless of how long ago the ECT treatment occurred. [4]

Co-owner of Somatics, psychiatrist Richard Abrams was asked under deposition if he even understood the mechanics of how ECT works and responded, “I do not.”[5] Mecta Corp, another U.S. ECT device manufacturer, could not provide evidence of how ECT works other than its machines are designed to cause a grand mal seizure and, beyond that, the mechanism is entirely theoretical.  Under deposition, Robin Nicol, the CEO of Mecta, admitted the company “does not do research” and made a decision to “disregard what it characterized as the minority view of ECT” that ECT “causes brain damage and causes memory loss.”[6]

However, as neuroscientist, Dr. Peter Sterling from the University of Pennsylvania noted: “ECT damage is easy to find if you look for it.” [7] [Emphasis added]

Other lawsuits have successfully determined brain damage.  For example, Ms. Peggy Salters was administered ECT for alleged “suicidality.”[8] The judge found Salter’s medical records did not substantiate the need for ECT.[9]

Salters, who held a Master’s of Science in nursing and had a long career as a nurse, alleged that as the result of an intensive course of outpatient ECT in 2000, she lost all memories of the past 30 years of her life, including her nursing skills and of her husband of three decades and the births of her three children.  Psychologist Mary E. Shea presented extensive neuropsychological testing proving to the jury’s satisfaction that Salters suffered dementia due to ECT brain damage. [10]

In March 2016, a coroner from Sunderland County in the UK heard how Elsie Tindle, 71, died after electroshock triggered an epileptic fit which caused irreparable brain damage. Dr. Nigel Cooper, a pathologist, who performed the post mortem on Tindle, concluded the formal cause of death as anoxic-ischemic brain damage (lack of blood flow to the brain), due to status epileptic (continuous seizure), due to ECT. The brain was completely starved of oxygen during the prolonged fit and after the third ECT session, Tindle fell ill and died 25 days later.[11]

The FDA has longed-ignored those that have recognized ECT’s brain damaging effects. For example:

  • 1983: Sydney Samant, M.D., a neurologist and electroencephalographer who measures electrical activity in different parts of the brain, was quoted in Clinical Psychiatry News in 1983: “I have no doubt that ECT produces effects identical to those of a head injury…After a few sessions of ECT the symptoms are those of moderate cerebral contusion, and further enthusiastic use of ECT may result in the patient functioning at a subhuman level. Electroconvulsive therapy in effect may be defined as a controlled type of brain damage produced by electrical means.”[12]
  • 1986: A controlled study compared the brain scans of 101 “depressed” patients who had received ECT with the scans of 52 normal volunteers. The study found a significant relationship between ECT treatment and brain atrophy (shrinkage). The study also showed that the brain abnormalities correlated only with ECT, and not with age, gender, severity of illness, or other variables.[13]
  • 2006: The study, “Shock treatment, brain damage, and memory loss: a neurological perspective,” published in The American Journal of Psychiatry,” found: “ECT produces characteristic EEG changes and severe retrograde amnesia, as well as other more subtle effects on memory and learning.” The author concluded that ECT results in brain disease and questioned why doctors would offer brain damage to their patients.[14]
  • 2018: Dr. Ken Castleman, Ph.D., biomedical engineer and author of the seminal textbook Digital Image Processing, wrote that ECT causes an alternately pull and tug on the cell membrane which creates a “jackhammer effect that can tear holes in cell walls,” during ECT. “This process is called ‘electroporation,’ the creation of pores (holes) in the cell wall by electrical means, leading to the alteration or destruction of cell membranes.”[15] Castleman noted that in ignoring the scientific literature, “The opinion of ‘authorities in the field’ is being substituted for scientific fact.”[16]
  • 2019: Moira Dolan, an Internal Medicine physician in Texas with 30 years of experience and an author of medication information books for healthcare consumers, wrote to state senators about the damage ECT causes stating, “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.”[17]

The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education in Toronto, Canada published a paper on ECT saying that it is overwhelmingly given to women, resulting in extensive cognitive and physical impairment. It “functions and is experienced as a form of assault and social control, not unlike wife battery,” the paper stated.  Continuing the assault analogy, the author wrote: “Repeatedly, women’s testimonies connote a sense of the entire process as an ongoing assault: being strapped down, being herded into the room, one’s head being encased in a band, being unable to breathe, being rendered unconscious, having one’s body violated by shock, being brain damaged.”  Citing a 2002-2003 study, the paper recounted one woman’s testimonial who said: “I feel like I’ve been gotten at, bashed, as if my brain has been abused” and another reported, “it can feel like a brutal assault on you.”[18]

Two to three times as many women as men are subjected to electroshock.[19]

“Although the medicalization camouflages the assault, overwhelmingly electroshock constitutes an assault on women’s memory, brains [and] integral being,” the above Canadian paper reported.[20]

Anna de Jonge Waikato, a New Zealand Patients’ Rights Advocacy spokeswoman said ECT should be abolished. “It is torture. They do it to cattle in the slaughterhouse before they cut their throats, and they shouldn’t do it to people. The brain is the most important part of the body, why are we doing this to it?” Further, “If you had a headache, I wouldn’t be able to hit you on the head with a hockey stick and say sorry, that’s all I’ve got to treat you. It’s unacceptable.”[21]

Robert Rubinstein, formerly a psychiatry professor at the University of California in San Francisco, said administering ECT is “comparable to kicking a Swiss watch….The mind is a very delicate instrument. We just don’t know a damn thing about why it works,” he said. “I can see very little if any reason to use it.” [22]

The FDA’s disregard of brain damage shows a disregard for consumers and a refusal to protect them from a practice and device that should be banned.

Nearly 100,000 people have signed CCHR’s online petition to ban electroshock.  More are encouraged to sign this and also to report any incident of ECT damage to CCHR.


[1] The Hon. Mr. Acting Justice, J.P. Slattery, A.O., “Report of the Royal Commission Into Deep Sleep Therapy,” NSW Royal Commission, Vol. 6, 1990, p. 96.

[2] David Karen, “ECT Litigation Update: Are Patients Being Warned of Brain Damage Risk?” MAD, 13 June 2019, https://www.madinamerica.com/2019/06/ect-litigation-patients-not-warned-brain-damage-risk/.

[3] http://www.thymatron.com/catalog_cautions.asp.

[4] Op. cit., David Karen.

[5] Deposition from Richard Abrams in the matter of Jose Riera vs. Somatics, LLC, 2 Aug. 2018.

[5] Deposition from Robin Nichol in civil case of Atze Akkerman vs MECTA, 18 Nov. 2004.

[7] Alliance for Human Research Protection (AHRP) review of the book, “Shock Therapy: A History of Electroconvulsive Treatment in Mental Illness” (2007), https://studylib.net/doc/7566204/ahrp-review-of-the-book.

[8] https://ahrp.org/landmark-decision-jury-awards-635177-damages-for-memory-loss-from-electroshock/.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11]  Petra Silfverskiold, “Electric shock therapy led to Sunderland patient having perm+anent fit,” Daily Mail (UK), 10 Mar. 2016, http://www.sunderlandecho.com/news/local/all-news/electric-shock-therapy-led-to-sunderland-patient-having-permanent-fit-1-7786233; https://www.judiciary.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/Tindle-2016-0098.pdf.

[12] Sydney Samant, Clinical Psychiatry News, Mar. 1983, http://www.ect.org/effects/psychnews.html.

[13] https://studylib.net/doc/7566204/ahrp-review-of-the-book, ALLIANCE FOR HUMAN RESEARCH. PROTECTION (AHRP) review of the book, “Shock Therapy: A History of Electroconvulsive Treatment in Mental Illness” (2007, citing:  Dolan et al. The cerebral appearance in depressed patients. Psychological Medicine 1986; 16: 775-779; See also: Freeman C.P.L., Basson J.V., and Crighton A. Double-Blind Controlled Trial of Electroconvulsive Therapy (E.C.T.) and Simulated E.C.T. in Depressive Illness, The Lancet, April 8, 1978; Squire LR, Slater PC. Electroconvulsive therapy and complaints of memory dysfunction: a prospective three – year follow-up study, British Journal of Psychiatry 1983; 142: 1-8.

[14] “Shock treatment, brain damage, and memory loss: a neurological perspective,” The American Journal of Psychiatry, 1 Apr. 2006, https://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/doi/abs/10.1176/ajp.134.9.1010?journalCode=ajp.

[15] https://www.cchrint.org/2019/02/13/fda-allows-brain-damaging-electroshock-for-teens/

[16] https://www.cchrflorida.org/cchr-says-psychiatrists-got-it-wrong-on-electroshock-treatment-in-wall-street-journal/

[17] Testimony of Moira Dolan, submitted to Maryland House of Representatives Hearing, 16 Feb. 2019.

[18] “Electroshock as a form of Violence Against Women,” Violence Against Women, Vol. 12,  No. 4, Sage Publications, 2005,  https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/602d/2a60d4eaf167a1941d0f158bb4fc67281f7e.pdf.

[19] “Ending ECT: From a Lawsuit to a Novel – The Moment is Now!” 26. Oct. 2017, https://www.madinamerica.com/2017/10/ending-ect-lawsuit-novel-moment-now/.

[20] Op. cit., Violence Against Women.

[21] https://www.healthyplace.com/depression/articles/shocking-treatment-still-torture-for-some.

[22] Op. cit., Jim Stratton.

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