“Why isn’t the feminist blogosphere all over this?”

Thursday, July 12th, 2007 · 64 Comments »

That’s the question that faced me earlier this week when I went over to Writhe Safely to see what FlawedPlan was up to. She’d blogged about the case of Simone D., a Hispanic woman who has lost her appeal for mercy — yes, mercy — from the New York Court of Appeals. Simone D. had begged the court to spare her the torture of forced electroshock, and the court said no.

The trivial answer to the question of why we in the feminist blogosphere aren’t on this case is that most of us probably haven’t heard of it. I hadn’t. But the larger question is why: why isn’t this kind of thing on our radar?

Electroshock treatments are a barbarity, a form of medical assault that should have gone the way of the ice-pick lobotomy. I knew that already; what I didn’t know was that it is particularly targeted at women.

But let me back up a minute, because if you’re reading this you may not know that first thing, that electroshock (ECT for short) is a travesty. So a quick run-down:

ECT belongs with that class of psychiatric treatments that includes lobotomies, ice-baths, and insulin shock, all of which certainly have a number of effects on patients, though curing illness isn’t one of them. What all of these treatments do (if we can even dignify them with the word “treatment”) is basically shatter the human organism. It’s like curing a headache by cutting off someone’s head. Lobotomies destroy the brain, insulin shock causes brain and other physical damage, ice-baths terrorize people, and ECT does it all: brain damage, emotional terror, physical harm.

So why do some doctors keep giving shock treatments? For the same reason that doctors kept giving lobotomies and inducing insulin comas: if you can’t cure someone’s headache, at least you can cut off her head.

I knew all that, but what I didn’t know was this singular, terrifying fact which I now call to your attention:

Throughout the history of ECT, one statistic remains constant: Women are subjected to electroshock two to three times as often as men.

That’s from the paper Understanding and Ending ECT: A Feminist Imperative, by Dr. Bonnie Burstow, and I would like everyone reading this to stop now and go read that. Please.

If you’re like me, you will read that paper and the blood will drain from your head and your stomach will knot up and you will think Why didn’t I know this? I should have known it; I should have known all about it. As I said to FlawedPlan, I knew (separately) that ECT was a crime, and I knew (separately) that women have been disproportionately diagnosed as mentally ill, very often simply for failing to conform to patriarchal values. But I had never put those two things together. Hadn’t thought about it. I did not know that ECT has always been overwhelmingly targeted at women and that it is still, today, being used to bully women into obedience.

Go read the paper.

Women being shocked to control their behavior, women being shocked for failure to be “good” wives and mothers, women being shocked for post-partum depression, daughters being shocked on their fathers’ say-so after reporting that their fathers sexually abused them, wives being shocked on their husbands’ say-so because of “feminist-type thinking.”

Women in the hospital for depression caused by a lifetime of physical and emotional abuse, being subjected to a “treatment” that is, in itself, physical and emotional abuse.

Women being shocked by male doctors — 95% of shock doctors are male, 70% of shock patients are female — to keep them in line.

Women being shocked, shocked, shocked, shocked. Even when they go to court and beg to have the torture stopped.

Which brings us back to Simone D., whose appeal for mercy has been rejected.

This is from the dissenting opinion of one of the appellate judges on the case:

Simone D. claimed that ECT inflicted pain on her. So, counsel tried to focus on the pain a patient undergoing ECT might suffer. On a prior petition that did not result in court-ordered ECT, Simone D. had been examined by an independent expert who suggested the alternative of psychotherapy with a Spanish-speaking therapist. [Simone D. does not speak English. –V.S.] This therapy was tried, but for only a few weeks. In an effort to show that this alternative to ECT deserved a longer testing period, Simone D.’s counsel attempted to cross-examine Dr. Brodsky on this subject. In addition, Simone D. had experienced cognitive impairment from ECT, resulting in its discontinuance in 1996. Her attorney, therefore, tried to cross-examine Dr. Brodsky on the extensive course of ECT administered to his client over the years without permanent improvement.

When Simone D.’s counsel tried to ask questions about the physical pain ECT causes, and also about grand mal seizure, the court interceded and proclaimed that it was familiar with the workings of ECT. When counsel sought to elicit information about hemorrhages and the rupture of the blood/brain barrier caused by ECT, the court sustained the petitioner’s objections. Likewise, the court thwarted counsel when he inquired about the dosage and duration of ECT, the Food and Drug Administration risk classification of ECT machines, and the identification of succinylcholine. These were but a few of the limitations the court placed on counsel as he attempted to show that Simone D. should not be forced yet again to undergo ECT. At the conclusion of Dr. Brodsky’s testimony, Simone D. renewed her application for an independent examination. The court denied the application as unnecessary. After closing arguments, the court found that it was in Simone D.’s best interest to administer ECT even though it acknowledged that she would probably never “get better”: “she perhaps could die. Perhaps she wants to die. But that’s not for us to determine. We must prevent her from dying.”

The “court,” you see, knows all about it.

One could almost wish that the “court” would find itself in a mental hospital where no one speaks the court’s language, being subjected to forced shock treatments despite repeated protestations that they don’t work, that they hurt, that they’re destroying the court’s brain, that the court is terrified every time it is strapped to the gurney, that maybe it would be better just to have someone the court could talk to instead, someone who could actually speak the court’s language…

Ahem. Back here in the real world, the Wittenberg Center has a list of New York State officials you can contact to help Simone D.:

** Gov. Eliot Spitzer:
Complete the web form at: http://161.11.121.121/govemail

Phone: (518) 474-8390. Fax: 518-474-1513.

** Lieutenant Gov. David Paterson:
He is legally blind and has been charged by the Governor with dealing with disability issues.

Complete the web form at: http://161.11.121.121/emailltgov
Phone: (518) 474-4623. Fax: (518) 486-4170

** Office of Mental Health Commissioner Michael Hogan:
Phone: (518) 474-4403. Fax: (518) 474-2149.

** Peter M. Rivera, Chair, New York State Assembly Standing
Committee on Mental Health, Mental Retardation and Developmental
Disabilities:

Email: riverap@assembly.state.ny.us
Phone: (718) 931-2620.
Write: 1973 Westchester Avenue; Bronx, NY 10462 USA.

The Wittenberg Center also has some sample comment text you might use and some more background on Simone D.’s case.

Beyond the Simone D. case, there is the larger issue of ECT as something feminists need to address. Dr. Bonnie Burstow writes about the need for us to, first of all, educate ourselves so we can get past the shock doctors’ smug assurance that ECT works. We need to understand that shock treatments are a form of violence against women; we need to deconstruct the medical mythology to see what is really going on.

Some feminists have already done this; I don’t mean to imply that everyone out there is as oblivious as I was. But the modern-day situation with ECT has been largely overlooked by the feminist movement, and that needs to change. The women who find themselves strapped to a gurney with electrodes on their heads are our most violated and vulnerable sisters. That they’re there in the first place — because of post-partum depression, because of sexual abuse, because of a society that condemns non-conforming women — is our business as feminists. And what’s being done to them as “treatment” — strapped down and tortured so they’ll shut up and behave, their pleas for mercy falling on deaf ears — that’s our business too.

*****

A few links on the ECT issue in general:

Electroshock as a Form of Violence Against Women, another paper by Dr. Bonnie Burstow
Coalition Against Psychiatric Assault: Academic Papers
Forced Electroshock, from ECT.org

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64 Responses to ““Why isn’t the feminist blogosphere all over this?””

  1. Feminist Law Professors » Blog Archive » Forced Electroshock as a Feminist Issue says:

    [...] Read Dr. Violet Socks’  account at Reclusive Leftist. [...]

  2. Cruella says:

    Dunno much about trackbacks but I have posted a link to you from my blog. Great post!

  3. Infidel says:

    I had the impression that ECT was just like cardioversion with a defibrillator. The spurious and uncoordinated electrical impulses causing a loss of functional sync. or something, are jolted- thereby polarizing all the cells so they can begin to be paced(in the case of cardioversion)by the appropriate node(in the case of the heart). Think about it though. Heart cells are muscle with intercalated disks, and specialized for being stimulated electrically, for working hard. Brain cells??? who knows that well the heck is going on there? Just one look at an EEG vs an EKG will tell you your dealing with a fine complicated electrically active tissue vs a simple pump. So what does a ECT do physiologically? Polarize brain cells?

  4. Violet says:

    What ECT does is induce a seizure, a grand mal seizure. When the current is passed through the brain the patient goes into convulsions.

    ECT was invented back in the 1930s based on the theory (now wholly discredited) that epilepsy could not co-exist with mental illness; the idea was that if you forced a mentally ill person into convulsions they would be “cured.” Another way of forcing seizures that was invented during that shining period in psychiatry was to induce insulin shock, a practice which has now been outlawed in the United States.

    These induced seizures don’t cure anything; they just cause brain damage. The person becomes confused, dazed, unable to remember.

  5. Violet says:

    Ann and Cruella, thanks for the links! Spread the word!

  6. Jenny Dreadful says:

    I wrote about lobotomies on my bag a while back.

    It’s pretty disturbing stuff. Women were similarly subjected to the operation disproportionately to men; people of color were also singled out.

    John F. Kennedy’s sister Rosemary was forced to undergo the operation and lived the rest of her life as a vegetable. A number of “erratic housewives” were permanently unwound as a result of the surgery. It’s very powerful stuff.

  7. Alas, a blog » Blog Archive » New York Court Approves Electroshock On Unwilling Woman says:

    [...] Reclusive Leftist has the contact information for four New York politicians who should be emailed, faxed, called or emailed asking them to intervene on Simone G’s behalf. [...]

  8. Tara says:

    This reminds me of Janet Frame. She had to undergo shock therapy because she was misdiagnosed as a schizophrenic. She was scheduled to have a lobotomy, until she won a prize in literature, which caused her doctors to cancel the surgery. You know, because massive brain damage might impede the writing process.

  9. Violet says:

    Ann at Feministing has picked this up too: Why electroshock therapy is a feminist issue, for which I’m very grateful.

    Typekey has decided I’m a Soviet spy and is refusing to let me log in over at Feministing, so I had to email Ann my response to the pro-shock commenters there, which she graciously posted for me. Since I can’t engage over there, I’ll say this here:

    I was impatient with the pro-shock commenters because I’m impatient on this issue. That kind of kneejerk “this is what my professor/advisor/attending told me” is exactly what maintains the status quo.

    Unfortunately, as I learned back when I worked in a hospital, doctors only listen to other doctors. I came to believe that for doctors, the entire human race is divided into two types: Doctor and Not-A-Doctor. That’s why ultimately change will have to come from within the medical profession, at the behest of members of that profession (though outside activists can exert pressure).

  10. Victoria says:

    Violet, you’re awesome. And thank you for the comment at Alas. I was so irritated with the “anti-feminist” remark that I went off the deep end about it, and was still putting my comment together when yours went through. No surprise, you were much more diplomatic than me.

    Going back to lurk mode now…

  11. thor says:

    I call bullshit.

    ECT has been shown to be effective in the treatment of depression

    http://ebmh.bmj.com/cgi/reprint/6/3/83.pdf

    The old days of one flew over the cuckoos nest are over.

    ECT is given under general anasthetic, and although it can cause some short term memory problems, it is the only treatement that works for some people.

    I dont think you want to suggest that people are not able to access a treatment that has been shown to be effective. I know people who would have suicided if they weren’t provided with ECT.

    You seem to think this issue is much more simplistic than it really is.

  12. Danielle says:

    Thank you for following up with the statistics on women and ECT and contact information for speaking out. I’ll be posting a follow-up on my blog to spread that information still further. I appreciate seeing the feminist bloggers stand up for the rights of the mentally disabled!

  13. Dohiyi Mir says:

    ECT A Feminist Issue?

    Reclusive Leftist (via Feministing):ECT belongs with that class of psychiatric treatments that includes lobotomies, ice-baths, and insulin shock, all of which certainly have a number of effects on patients, though curing illness isn’t one of them. Wh…

  14. Speak Out says:

    What we are talking about is the *involuntary* destruction of the brain and memory as an exteriorly adjudged worthwhile trade-off for a short-term abatement of depression.

    I believe that if you feel that something is wrong with you and someone treats you, approaching you with compassion and not defining you by your dis-ease, then you have a chance of recovering. The ECT method seems to me to be: “Quit crying, or I’ll give you something to cry about.”

    I know a woman who attempted suicide prior to and after ECT; not in my experience has it helped.

  15. Christina says:

    When reading these comments, does anyone else hear the faint strains of the Sesame Street song, “One of these things is not like the other…” wrt to the comment for ECT?

  16. flawedplan says:

    That Feministing thread is blowing my mind. If I hear one more person claim ECT saved a life, but they’re still on anti-psychotics, in and out of the psych ward and can’t write a sentence for shit, I’m going to call bullshit on THAT.

    My mind is so fried from the antipathy right now, in the psych community too, of all places. Why do people think the good outcomes are the significant ones? Good outcomes are not the point, it’s the bad outcomes that signify. I been hanging around radicals so long I forget there even was a debate, which should not be a bad thing, it’s good to talk, yes? The right wing has poisoned the art of discourse, we default to instant enemies. Confrontation, snark, attitude are bad things? In other words, you’re right, but I can’t concede, so will attack your presentation. Wow.

    You are right, quotable word for word, and I’m sending abundant gratitude.

  17. Violet says:

    Why do people think the good outcomes are the significant ones?

    Positive results, boy, only look at the positive results!

    Medical students, and most particularly psych students, should spend more time learning the history of their profession. They should have an immersion course in, say, mid-20th century psychiatric literature. Instead of memorizing the DSM-IV they should memorize as a cautionary tale the papers published supporting insulin shock and lobotomy. Then, perhaps, they might be able to approach the current orthodoxy with appropriate skepticism.

  18. Mental Disability Law Blog › Feminism and Involuntary Electroshock Convulsive Treatment says:

    [...] Alas! A Blog explored ECT’s lack of proven benefits, and mentioned that it has statistically been performed mostly on elderly women, regardless of diagnosis. Reclusive Leftivist touches on some of the same issues, linking to the paper Understanding and Ending ECT: A Feminist Imperative, by Dr. Bonnie Burstow and providing contact information for those of us who want to speak out on Simone’s behalf. Dr. Burstow writes that: “Throughout the history of ECT, one statistic remains constant: Women are subjected to electroshock two to three times as often as men.” [...]

  19. Ollie says:

    So I posted this over at feministing before someone pointed out I was in the wrong place to be asking.

    In the comment you followed up with over there (and had Ann post) you said:

    Study after study has shown that any perceived curative
    effect from shock treatments (both insulin and electroshock) is due to
    either the placebo effect or to the human contact and attention that comes
    with being given any kind of treatment at all.

    I was wondering if you wouldn’t mind pointing me to your sources for that? I’m skeptical but trying to be open-minded and am interested in doing more reading on the topic. However, I can’t find any original sources stating that. Mind pointing me in the right direction?

  20. Feministe » Daily Feminist Reads says:

    [...] 3. Violet Socks on why ECT is a feminist issue — and why women who undergo it are often ignored. A New York woman is being forced to undergo electroconvulsive therapy against her will, and her story is getting almost no play. Head over there, read about it, contact state officials, and spread the word. [...]

  21. thor says:

    Yes Violet,

    All those in the scientific professions should be aware of the history of their professions (just like every other profession in my opinion). That does not mean that the history of that profession should define that profession.

    Sure, there have been some unethical things done to people in the name of science, but to write off one form of treatment because its been used unethically in the past (not to mention the scientific advances which have improved the treatment and focus on the ethics of those advances) is to deny people a choice of using a treatment that can work.

    Like meds for depression/psychosis, not all of them will work for a person. We all have differences in our physiology.

  22. Burrow says:

    I thought they stopped ECT completely because it doesn’t work and is very damaging. I’m surprised that it’s still going on. *runs off to fill out web forms*

  23. Jodie says:

    I am undecided on the use of ECT. However, it is NOT something that should EVER be mandatory, much less court-ordered.

    The psychiatrist pushing this on this woman should have his license pulled and not be allowed to practice medicine.

  24. Violet says:

    Ollie,

    Thanks for asking. Don’t know why Typekey hates me, but thank you for coming over here.

    On the non-effectiveness of ECT:

    Johnstone, L. (2002-2003). Electroshock in UK linked to psychological trauma. MindFreedom Journal, 45, 48-50.
    Breggin, P. (1991). Toxic psychiatry. New York: St. Martin’s.
    Black, D., & Winokur, G. (1989). Does treatment influence mortality in depressives? Annals of Clinical Psychiatry, 1, 165-173.
    Crowe, T., & Johnstone, E. (1986). Controlled trials of electroconvulsive therapy. Annals of the New York Academy of Science, 462, 12-29.
    Johnstone, E. (1980). The Northwick Park ECT trial. Lancet, 100, 1317-1320.
    Lambourne, J., & Gill, D. (1978). A controlled comparison of simulated and real ECT. British Journal of Psychiatry, 113, 514-519.
    Avery, D., & Winokur, G. (1977). The efficacy of electroconvulsive therapy and antidepressants in depression. Biological Psychiatry, 33, 1029-1037.

    However, I’d like to suggest that what is even more important than the non-effectiveness of ECT (or, to be extremely generous, its inconclusively demonstrated therapeutic effect), is its conclusively demonstrated damage — brain damage. That ECT causes permanent memory loss and cognitive dysfunction has been known since its inception, and is borne out by every kind of study, from brain scans to anecdotal histories. Even long-time proponent Harold Sackheim finally acknowledged that ECT causes brain damage (after years of publicly denying this). If ECT were a drug, as many others have said before me, it would have been banned long before now. The disputed benefits for a few do not begin to outweigh the indisputable harms to all.

    That ECT causes brain damage should not be surprising, nor is it a new claim, since in an earlier era psychiatrists were quite open about the brain damaging effects of ECT. The brain damage was the cure — I’m reminded of the scene in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind where Joel says, “could this cause brain damage?” and the doctor replies, “well, it IS brain damage.” Shock doctors started downplaying the brain damage aspect in response to public distaste and as part of the “new and improved” packaging of ECT.

    What I would really suggest you do, in addition to looking at the individual studies, is read for an overall perspective on shock therapy. ECT was born in the 1930s, in the same era of somatic treatments that produced insulin shock and Metrazol shock, both of which are illegal now in the United States. The theory on which shock treatment was based has long since been disproven, and both insulin and Metrazol were finally abandoned (after decades, I note, in which proponents kept claiming that they “worked”) because the mortality rate was so high, the procedures were so awful, and the alleged therapeutic effect was finally acknowledged to be non-existent. Why has ECT held on? Actually it too faded away for a while, and its resurgence is owing to the fact that shock doctors have managed to re-package it, adminstering anesthesia and muscle relaxants so the seizures are less unpleasant-looking. But what is actually happening has not changed one whit since the 1930s: patients are artificially convulsed, with the result that they become disoriented and lose memory. That’s the “cure.”

    Insulin shock, Metrazol shock, and electroshock are a group, they’re a trio, siblings in every respect, yet modern-day ECT proponents pretend — and if they’re young enough they actually believe — that somehow ECT is “different.” Yet note that Max Fink, who has long been at the top of the ECT food chain in the U.S., used to be the head of the insulin shock unit at Hillside Hospital in Glen Oaks. Same product, new package.

    It’s difficult for me to give you links for all this because my own knowledge of the history of psychiatry comes from 30 years of reading books, old-fashioned paper-printed books, on a variety of topics. But I found this link — History of ECT, Electroconvulsive Therapy — which neatly summarizes how ECT has not, fundamentally, changed. And to put the 20th century history of shock treatments in perpsective, here are some books you might check out:

    Mad in America

    Great and Desperate Cures: The Rise and Decline of Psychosurgery and Other Radical Treatments for Mental Illness

    Mental Ills and Bodily Cures: Psychiatric Treatment in the First Half of the Twentieth Century

    And here is an online link to a Breggin paper from 1998 summarizing research on ECT:
    Electroshock: scientific, ethical, and political issues

  25. Violet says:

    So, Thor, you keep talking about abuses “in the past”…and this in a thread about Simone D.

    It’s like those commenters at Feministing who keep talking about “informed consent” and “last resort,” and this in response to a story about a woman who, a) far from giving her informed consent, has actually gone to court to STOP being given ECT, and b) far from being given ECT as a last resort, is being given ECT without ever being offered a decent trial of talk-therapy with a psychiatrist who speaks her language (Simone D. is linguistically isolated in her institutional setting).

  26. Ollie says:

    Thanks for posting those.

    I’m in the midst of a move right now, but will read up on those once I’m done and see how legitimate they are.

    I would caution you against relying on Breggin though. I’ve read his work before, and the man is about as big a quack as they come. He’s closer to a televangelist/faith healer than he is to an actual doctor;) I think he presents himself as more a philosopher than psychiatrist (which is fine), but he seems to use that as an excuse to only very rarely provides valid, reliable data to back up his claims.

    Don’t know anything about the other studies though, so I’ll be sure to read and evaluate them.

  27. Angelia Sparrow says:

    I talked with my mother, a former psych nurse, on this a couple months ago (I was writing a dark future novel and one of our heros had involuntary ECT in an attempt to “fry the fairy right out of him.”)

    She considers the practice barbaric, and also mentioned something I haven’t seen said in the comments yet: it’s addictive

    They had patients (late 1960′s early 70s) who were getting two and three ECTs a week, and could not function without them. The minute the fog in their head from the shocks cleared, they were depressed again.

  28. flawedplan says:

    I’m in the midst of a move right now, but will read up on those once I’m done and see how legitimate they are.

    Oh Ollie why bother? Your eyes are way passed seeing. If the body of resarch consisting of personal narratives isn’t enough to move you, why should outcome studies be any different?

    And how dare you malign Peter Breggin, who knowingly threw his own career in the crapper 30 years ago when he made the choice to break ranks and fight for the rights of the voiceless. The term is dissident psychiatrist, show some respect. And cite your own sources, eh.

    If nothing else I urge you to read Mad in America, wingnut.

  29. flawedplan says:

    Sorry the blockquote didn’t take.

    The Feministing Kool-Aid thread belongs in a time capsule. Strawman anti-psychiatry has made an appearanc in the latest comment, which points to a thread where one commenter speculates on Burstow’s possible connection to the scientologists.

    The disrespect is sickening. What is threatening these people? Are they eligible? Has psychiatric assault happened to them, or their loved ones? And what are they doing on a feminist blog? They argue the reasearch, while ignoring the survivors.

    I’m so old I remember when feminism meant consciousness raising, and believing women.

  30. thor says:

    Re the personal narratives -

    The difference flawedplan, is like so many have pointed out.

    the plural of anecdote is not data.

  31. Ollie says:

    Sorry flawedplan, couldn’t tell if you were being sarcastic or not. I’m going to assume not.

    The reason I’d read those is because outcome studies are controlled, personal narratives are snapshots. You can use snapshots to prove anything, but you are then ignoring the whole picture. Narratives are great for evoking an emotional response, but they downplay rational decision-making.

    Breggin is not a dissenter. Breggin is a quack. Dissenter’s have proof for their beliefs. Breggin has personal opinions and anecdotes.

    Learn the basics of the scientific method, then come talk to me. Actually learn social skills while you’re at it. I came here with a genuine interest, trying to be open-minded about it, and wanting to hear the opposite side and see what proof they can offer. Your response was to be incredibly rude. Thankfully Violet was cordial and helpful enough to show me her sources so I could pursue the subject on my own. If it were just you I’d have placed you in the same category as that guy holding a “Jesus has returned” sign on a street corner.

    They’re happy with narratives and don’t need proof of anything either.

    I also remind you that your going to need scientists on your side if you are ever going to accomplish anything with regards to this. I’d recommend not alienating them by telling them some narratives posted on the internet prove you’re right. They’ll want something a wee bit more useful.

  32. flawedplan says:

    Oh shove your conditions straight up your ass. Techonlogy has got you kids so fucked up you’re absolutely useless as human beings. Internet narratives are more than black words scrolling on a white screen. Would you tell a victim of rape her time in hell was a snapshot? Instruct her in the scientific method if she’s to dignify her cause with your concern and suppprt?

    So, how many narratives have you read? And from what standpoint, besides ad faith, skeptic, voyeur, narcissist?

  33. Violet says:

    Holy Shit.

    First Thor:

    Re the personal narratives –
    The difference flawedplan, is like so many have pointed out. the plural of anecdote is not data.

    Thor, there’s another word for personal narrative: case study. “Case study” is what doctors call cases that support the clinical pattern they’re developing or which has already become orthodoxy. “Personal narrative” is what doctors call cases that deviate from the pattern and which they therefore wish to ignore. Dig it.

    Every condition described in the DSM-IV was identified on the basis of studying actual clinical cases of individual human beings. “Personal narratives.”

    (Note: I should qualify the above by saying “narrow-minded” doctors. Researchers of all stripes have to contend with their own bias, and a review of psychiatry shows that unacknowledged bias has been an enormous problem in that field.)

    Now Ollie:

    The reason I’d read those is because outcome studies are controlled, personal narratives are snapshots.”

    Please read what I said above to Thor.

    Breggin is not a dissenter. Breggin is a quack. Dissenter’s have proof for their beliefs. Breggin has personal opinions and anecdotes.

    I don’t know enough personally about Peter Breggin to vouch for him, but it’s worth noting that doctors who deviate from orthodoxy are and have been routinely vilified by the medical establishment. If you don’t think that happens, then I would suggest you learn more about the history of medicine.

    But the case against electroshock does not begin or end with Peter Breggin, who is just one voice against it. Again, I would strongly urge you to read for a perspective on the somatic treatments in psychiatry.

    Learn the basics of the scientific method, then come talk to me.

    If you’re not going into a medical career I don’t suppose this matters, but if you are, then by all means, learn the basics of clinical observation. Please.

    Actually learn social skills while you’re at it. I came here with a genuine interest, trying to be open-minded about it, and wanting to hear the opposite side and see what proof they can offer. Your response was to be incredibly rude. Thankfully Violet was cordial and helpful enough to show me her sources so I could pursue the subject on my own.

    Flawedplan’s response to you vis-a-vis rape survivors is apropos. I can afford to be “cordial” because I’m not personally a stakeholder in this. I’m an observor, not a rape survivor who’s been trounced by the system.

    What you have demonstrated here, though you clearly don’t realize it, is that you are ignorant of the history of electroshock and of the research that’s been done on it. It’s like an MRA who is utterly oblivious to the reality of rape and believes nonsense like “most rape accusations are false,” etc. — yet in his ignorance, castigates rape survivors for being emotional and demands that they prove their case.

    I also remind you that your going to need scientists on your side if you are ever going to accomplish anything with regards to this.

    There ARE scientists against ECT, plenty of them. Please read and learn.

  34. thor says:

    Violet and flawedplan,

    Your outright sensationalism with regard to ECT is what limits your credibility.

    Case studies illustrate the course of an illness or disease. They do not ‘prove’ anything other than this particular case has these particular characteristics. They are not generalisable in the sense that all other cases are going to be exactly like them. If they were, we wouldnt be having this debate because ECT would have worked for all/none of the people who have had it.

    The scientific method is what is used to determine whether the treatments in the case studies are effective. The scientific method is dispassionate to appeals to emotion and authority (upon which your arguments seem to be based). That does not mean science cannot be compassionate but that there are standards to which research must be conducted in order for it to be considered a reliable and valid study.

    Would you tell a victim of rape her time in hell was a snapshot?

    Thats deliberately misleading the debate. On a personal level one should be shocked and horrified that there are people in this world who rape others. On a scientific level we can study the effects of the rape on women over a number of parameters ie age/race/educational level etc, within ethical guidlines. As I’ve said, its not the place of science to hold her hand and comfort her. That responsibility lies with her friends and therapist (should she seek professional assistance).

    What I believe the anecdotal and scientific evidence shows is that ECT works for some people and doesnt work for others. Also, that you dont know which group you will be in until you try it. Because of this variability, I would be very disappointed to see ECT banned.

  35. Violet says:

    I think this must be the first time in my life anyone has ever accused me of being unscientific and sensationalist. It’s funny.

    Thor, son, you are very confused. You’re obviously a student and I hope you’re still in high school or college, because if you’re already in medical school, god help us.

    There is a large body of evidence stretching over many decades that ECT almost always causes some degree of brain damage, irreversible brain damage. That you are unaware of this evidence doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. To ignore evidence that doesn’t suit your case is not science; it’s quackery.

    The benefits of ECT are questionable at best, and there is a large body of evidence stretching over several decades showing that ECT functions just like the other shock treatments, giving some patients temporary relief at best by dazing the mind and interfering with memory. This temporary relief is follwed by a return of the original symptoms, but this time accompanied by permanent brain damage. That you are unaware of this evidence doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. To ignore evidence that doesn’t suit your case is not science; it’s quackery.

    You also completely misunderstood the rape analogy. You seem confused about how case studies provide the clinical data that allow a pattern to be identified, which can only then be tested by the outcome studies you’re fond of, and you don’t seem to have mastered the concept that ignoring a large segment of case studies, or ignoring recurring features in case studies, will tend to screw up the accuracy of your clinical picture. So be it. The point of the rape survivor reference was that for someone like me, who isn’t a patient and will never suffer from your nonsense, your confusion is either amusing or annoying, depending on my mood. But for someone who is or has been a patient, and who therefore has suffered from the kind of quackery it seems you are destined to practice, it’s a little harder to be calm.

    Now run along.

  36. Violet says:

    I must say here — just in general, to the world — that it is fascinating that the pro-shock commenters here and elsewhere simply ignore that this story is about forced electroshock. This is a woman who is being forced to undergo a treatment she fears and abhors, a treatment that has already caused her cognitive damage (according to her own shock doctor!) and which is not expected to render her any permanent help at all (again, according to her own shock doctor!). And it’s not even being used as a last resort, since what ought to be a frontline treatment — counseling in the patient’s own language — hasn’t even been tried for more than a couple of weeks.

    These are the signal features of the case, and yet the pro-shock commenters simply ignore them.

  37. Andy says:

    I get your point completely, but ECT is not just a feminist issue. If we are to treat each sex as equal (which we obviously should be doing), subjecting men to that treatment is just as abhorrent.

    The stats you cite are pretty repugnant though. The ratio of women to men treated via ECT is statistically well beyond significant. I hope the swines who “prescribe” such treatment end up on it themselves and I hope it hurts them.

  38. thor says:

    Violet my dear, you do assume so much.

    firstly my gender, then my profession. It is no wonder that you to are selective in what sources you sight.

    I’ve never argued that there aren’t side effects – just that for some people these may be worth it.

    I was quoting flawedplan with the rape reference.

    This argument comes down to choice. If people had free choice to choose or reject this treatment we wouldnt be talking about it now.

    I thought feminism was about choice – not seeking to have things banned that have been shown to help people as well.

    my comments are not pro-shock – you make it seem like I’m advocating that everyone with a mental illness be given ECT. They are pro-choice – people should be given that choice to make for themselves, to see the potential benefits and side effects.

  39. Violet says:

    Oh for heavens sake, if you dub yourself a student, adopt a male moniker, cite med journal reprints and lecture people on the scientific method, you’re obviously adopting the persona of a male medical student or wannabe. I don’t care who you are in real life; I’m interacting with your chosen persona.

    I get your point completely, but ECT is not just a feminist issue. If we are to treat each sex as equal (which we obviously should be doing), subjecting men to that treatment is just as abhorrent.

    I agree with you, Andy, and in fact until this week I didn’t even know that ECT was a feminist issue, as I said in my post. I’ve always just considered it a Bad Medicine issue. That’s why I was so surprised by the WritheSafely post and galvanized to blog about it myself.

    Shock doctors claim that women are shocked 2-3 times as often as men because women are diagnosed as depressed 2-3 times as often. But the Electroconvulsive Therapy Review Committee (1985) found that the correlation didn’t hold up; women receive shock at a much higher rate than men regardless of diagnosis.

  40. Muriel says:

    ECT saved my life. It has a remarkable success rate. Medication simply did nothing for my bipolar disorder. When it began decades ago the procedure was crude. It is very different now. Getting my wisdom teeth pulled was more of an ordeal. I was put under and don’t remember anything about the few mintues it took to do one session of the procedure. (I had several sessions total.) I also had almost not memory loss. It really did save my life. No one should ever be forced to do any medical procedure under the circumstances described. But with so many more women suffering from severe depression than men (hormones have loads to do with it), writing off ECT as a “travesty” could leave many suffering women with the wrong idea about a treatment that could save them. One recent book on the topic was written by Kitty Dukakis and Larry Tye called Shock: The Healing Power of Electroconvulsive Therapy. I recommend reading it for anyone who is truly interested in this topic.

  41. Violet says:

    Muriel, if you feel that ECT helped you then I am glad for you. Truly. I’m glad for anyone who has escaped intolerable bipolar disorder. But if you were lucky enough to escape memory damage from ECT then you are very, very unusual. Most recipients of ECT report memory failure and cognitive dysfunction, including those who, like you, feel that they were helped. For example, a woman who went to the ECT.org board to advocate for ECT and said (emphasis mine):

    “I chose ECT and even though they did not warn me about losing my whole childhood of memories, I am not angry or upset. I would have done it anyways, it seemed like the only option at the time. ”

    And she was advocating for ECT!

    The problem I think is not that some women may be scared off a valuable treatment by learning the dangers, but that the overwhelming majority of people being given this treatment are not informed of those dangers in the first place. Shock doctors regularly downplay or simply deny the long-term brain damage. That’s why there’s such a movement for “informed consent,” because people who have had ECT are upset that they weren’t warned of the real dangers.

    WritheSafely has an excellent post on this subject: I’ll listen to my heart. I recommend it.

  42. Violet says:

    Deleting comment from Thor who has demonstrated now that he/she/it is a troll who will try any tack for attention.

    Fuck off, trolls.

  43. Ollie says:

    I’m aware of case studies and clinical observation (I am already well on my way into the medical profession), though thanks for pointing that out since it IS important to consider. They’re useful, yes. The difference is, like I said, they aren’t controlled like true, empirical research is (or at least should be). My problem is that some folks here seem to think that clinical observation trumps empirical research, and I’m sorry, but I think that’s utterly ridiculous. Clinical observation is useful for making decisions on a case-by-case basis. What we are discussing is policy though. Different ball-game entirely, and it becomes VERY important to consider the big picture.

    RE: The rape victim, I understand your point, but I thought this was supposed to be a political discussion, and not a support group. Am I wrong? If this blog truly was written with the intent of being a support group and not generating political discussion, than I am out of line and you have my apologies.

    Of COURSE I would never say something like that to a rape victim flawedplan. The issue is that many here are describing ECT as “barbaric, should be outlawed, etc.”. What some folks are saying though seems the equivalent of outlawing sex because sometimes (in the case of rape, abuse, etc.) sex can be bad. Sometimes it can be good too, and I think its important to consider the good sides as well as the bad, and outlaw rape (or in this case, forced ECT) rather than everything. Honestly though, I’m done talking with you because at this point you seem, at least to me, to be too full of anger to have a healthy discussion on this issue, and I’m here to learn and potentially debate the issue, not to get in a shouting match. If what Violet implied was correct and you truly did suffer severely from an ECT treatment than you have my apologies for my earlier comments, and wishes for imporvement in the future. Beyond that, suffice it to say, we are very different people, with very different world views, and no matter what we will never see eye to eye. I’m comfortable leaving it at that.

    Violet, I too think the case at hand is certainly questionable, if not downright outrageous, but the discussion moved past that pretty quickly. Perhaps we’ve misunderstood eachother…I’m in no way arguing the doctors were justified to administer ECT to Simone D, I’m arguing whether it should be considered barbaric, and outlawed as a whole (something numerous folks have suggested on here). Actually I wasn’t arguing anything originally, was just looking for some sources, before flawedplan kind of brought me into one, but here we are:)

    RE: Breggin, I’ve read enough of his work at this point, that he just doesn’t seem a reliable source to me, but I DO intend to read the other sources you cited. As anyone who knows me will tell you, I have NO problems being the dissenting voice on an issue, or encouraging others to do so. My issue is dissenting without backing up your opinion, and in the case of medicine, this involves using well-controlled, sound empirical trials. Until Breggin publishes a meta-analysis or something empirical, I view him as a philosopher more than a doctor.

    My issue at this point is that nearly all the anti-ECT groups seem to rely more on clinical observation than on empirical research. This is what Breggin frequently does, which is why I don’t trust him. I’m looking for some empirical studies, and was hoping your sources could provide them (haven’t had a chance to look those up yet so I don’t know). After all, if ECT is as bad as you all say it is, why wouldn’t the numbers display a poor treatment outcome with a high side-effects profile? I am interested in learning more about this. I’m more interested in minor depression so nearly all my reading has focused on less-radical intervention methods than ECT, but hopefully this will change that.

    Not sure if this will be the last time I check the thread (moving and all – so much to do!) but I wish you the best of luck and will try and stop back to see responses.

  44. Ollie says:

    Forgot to say, if nothing else, thanks for raising my awareness on the issue since you’ve inspired me to do some reading in an area that I’d otherwise be unlikely to pursue, and more knowledge is never a bad thing.

  45. Christina says:

    I’m not a doctor, don’t even play one on TV, but is it de rigeur for permanent brain damage to be an acceptable side effect for any other treatment/medicine? If so, could someone please e-mail me the names of these treatments so I may avoid them at all costs?

    Thank you.

  46. Erin says:

    Violet, thanks for posting about this.

    My mother was coerced into ECT treatments for depression — while she was never “forced,” per se, she now recalls that she was never allowed to ask questions or object to certain aspects of the procedure. Once she began treatment, she was completely at the mercy of her doctors. It was heartbreaking (and terrifying) to watch my mother disintegrate from a human being into a mindless zombie, incapable of joy or sadness or any emotion. She could barely remember who I was, and often couldn’t respond to simple questions. She was forced to quit her job and remain on disability for over two years, because her mental functions had been so dulled by ECT. Now, nearly a decade later, she is still suffering memory problems related to the treatments, and is back on different kinds of medications for depression.

    Just one more “case study” to add to the pile, I suppose.

  47. Violet says:

    Ollie (and anyone else interested):

    No, that’s not what I was trying to imply about FlawedPlan, but you don’t seem to be getting the rape analogy so I’m not going to keep trying.

    “After all, if ECT is as bad as you all say it is, why wouldn’t the numbers display a poor treatment outcome with a high side-effects profile?”

    Yes, why indeed? Here’s another question: How did Sakel come up with an 80% success rate in curing schizophrenia with insulin shock? How did other researchers after him come up with success rates as high as 90%? Why did Moniz get the Nobel Prize for inventing the lobotomy? Why did so many studies over so many years show that lobotomy and shock treatment were mind-bogglingly successful in curing everything from depression to psychosis?

    You’ll say, oh, medicine isn’t like that anymore, we have randomized trials and we’re aware of bias and all that. That’s true of most of the medical field; overall things are vastly improved. But it’s not true of the ECT industry. My hostility to electroshock may cause you to think I’m anti-medicine or anti-psychiatry, but I’m not. I’m anti-electroshock, because it’s a barbarous relic of the past in every way — not just in the fact that it dates from the same era as lobotomy and insulin shock, but also in that its continuing “success” is based on the same kind of shoddy research and biased researchers that were behind the other somatic treatments. It’s a disgrace to medicine.

    ECT is dominated by a handful of doctors whose incomes and careers are entirely bound up with the electroshock industry and the sale of shock machines. The guy who wrote the standard textbook on ECT (Richard Abrams) also owns one of the two major shock machine companies, a fact he failed to disclose to his publisher. The guy who’s been behind most of the positive results for the past two decades (Harold Sackheim) is also employed by a shock machine company — a fact he didn’t disclose to the NIMH or NY state officials, yet he continues to control the majority of grant money for ECT. The so-called “grandfather” of shock (Max Fink) started out as an insulin shock doctor in the 50s, when he wrote enthusiastically about the brain damaging effects of his wonderful therapy; now he’s a consultant for a shock machine company and narrates their videotapes. It’s also a lucrative field for psychiatrists out in the field; Dr. Abrams’ partner tells psychiatrists that they can double their income by setting up an “ECT suite.”

    There have been a number of articles over the years exposing these financial doings and compromised research, but the medical community has chosen to look the other way. (See: USA Today, Washington Post, Forbes, Eye Weekly.) Perhaps it’s because the doctors on the APA’s ECT panel are also those same doctors with the questionable financial dealings, the ones who author the textbooks and publish the glowing results and sell the shock machines.

    As for the long-term brain damage that ECT causes, the men who control ECT research, not surprisingly, have elected not to study that. Ever. For decades now. And the follow-up tests for memory loss they have done haven’t even been properly designed to test for memory loss: Robertson, Harold, & Pryor, Robin, Memory and cognitive effects of ECT: informing and assessing patients, Advances in Psychiatric Treatment (2006), vol. 12, 228 238

    Instead it has fallen to patients to write, testify, send letters to the FDA — all those “personal narratives” that you dismiss. There are 40 volumes so far at the FDA of personal narratives and surveys testifying to massive memory loss and cognitive impairment. Since the doctors who control the money (and own the shock machine companies) aren’t interested in doing outcome studies for brain damage, patients’ personally-volunteered personal narratives are what’s left. It’s certainly convenient for the shock doctors that medical students are being taught to ignore such things.

    Nevertheless, a number of studies have been done over the years demonstrating ECT’s lack of effectiveness and the brain damage it causes. In addition to the studies I already cited, here’s a bibiliography page.

    Someday electroshock will be abolished and people will look back on it the way we look back on lobotomy and insulin shock and Metrazol. Why did they let it go on? people will ask. How could they be so blind? Yeah, how?

  48. Ollie says:

    Actually if you wouldn’t mind explaining what the rape analogy was meant to convey, I’d appreciate it. If that wasn’t what she meant I have literally no idea where she could possibly have been going with that.

    Are we just disagreeing on the idea of one person’s subjective experiences adding up to more on the whole? If so, I can see where you’re coming from, but still have to respectfully disagree. Though asking if I would SAY that to a rape victim certainly doesn’t have anything to do with that analogy – it has to do with whether objectivity on the matter is possible without being cold to an individual.

    Still been too busy to read but I grabbed a few of those papers online last night and hope to get to them soon. I understand what you are saying about the bias inherent in certain medical publications, you are completely correct regarding that. My only problem so far is that the fairly minimal reading I’ve done on the topic has all focused on proving that these studies COULD be biased. Or on the history of abuse in ect. These are CERTAINLY important points to consider, but it unfortunately just shows the current situation is more likely problematic, not that it is a reality.

    That’s why I wanted your sources:) So I can dive into the methods section of some of the papers you mentioned and contrast their results with paper’s by Fink and the like. See whose research truly was done better. People here seem to think I’m pro-shock, but that really isn’t the case – I’m more in the undecided category, which I guess makes me pro-shock from a relative standpoint to most here. I hang out with academics so I’m used to discussing things like this from an intellectual standpoint regardless of personal views, and wasn’t quite prepared for the hostility I was met with here just for expressing doubts that Breggin’s work isn’t doctrine (not talking about you, for the record).

    Heck, one of the reasonbs I’m going into this field is because I believe interventions for mental disorders have become too reliant on “quick-fix” applications (be that ect, or popping 20 prozac everytime something bad happens in someone’s life). So perhaps my stance has been unclear here, in which case that is my fault. I’m a skeptic about most things, its served me well so far in life:) My only problem is that people here seem to take things like the potential for bias and assume that means there is one. Pharmaceutical companies can sponsor trials for new antibiotics with a clear, intended bias, but that doesn’t mean the drug doesn’t work:) I’m just trying to get some perspective on the issue, so I can then better judge for myself what stance to take, and base my decisions on a wider knowledge base. I just found it kind of a culture shock to meet people who seem to believe that was a bad thing.

  49. flawedplan says:

    There is substantial conflict in your field Ollie, and what I’m hearing from you is unwillingness to engage dissident perspectives, such as resolving congnitive dissonance by relegating a doctor of psychiatry to that of philosophy. Come now. The facts are what they are, and they are always friendly.

    For instance, above you make the standard global assertion that the drugs work. This pisses me off. You can use that anger to distract yourself from objective inqiry, or not.

    Are you familiar with the NIMH CATIE study? So much for the drugs working.

    But I’m glad to hear you’re a skeptic, consumers are becoming reflexive critics of what’s pushed on us, and if you’re going to be a clinician you will see it. A couple blogs that could be of interest to you:

    http://carlatpsychiatry.blogspot.com/

    (“Supporting the search for honesty in medical education”)

    http://clinpsyc.blogspot.com/

    (“Claims made in both clinical psychology and psychiatry …examined more closely than in many outlets.”)

    http://scientific-misconduct.blogspot.com/

    (“About all manner of corporate pharmaceutical scientific misconduct. If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.”)

    http://peterrost.blogspot.com/

    (“According to Fortune “Peter Rost has become the drug industry’s most annoying – and effective – online scourge.” Peter Rost, M.D., is also the author of “THE WHISTLEBLOWER, Confessions of a Healthcare Hitman.”)

    http://www.furiousseasons.com/

    (Disgruntled patient hangout, run by mental health investigative journalist Philip Dawdy)

    This is a small sample, much more on the above blogrolls. Bless them, every one.

  50. I’ll listen to my heart « Writhe Safely says:

    [...] Jul 13th, 2007 by flawedplan The Simone D story has gained some traction in the feminist blogosphere. I would like to breathe a sigh of hope, but I can’t, something else is going on that always goes on and makes us lose whatever allies we pick up. By allies I don’t mean the unshakable Scientologists, and the somethiing else going on is not the knee-jerk discrediting of allies as such. Not yet. [...]

  51. K.A. says:

    Don’t want to come off as one of these dismissive fools, but I too know someone with severe depression who turned to ECT only as a last recourse after a suicide attempt and various failed medication combos. It did help her, but she sustained damage to her memory.

    The problem with the ECT thing is that it’s being COURT ORDERED AGAINST HER WILL, and presumably being given to women who, even in this day and age, suffer an abusive/invalidating environment vastly different than the environment to which males are subjected. Many of these women are not “crazy,” and fuck the 95% of male doctors who call women hysterical just because they are sexually abused at a phenomenally high rate, as well as used as punching bags for misogynists in almost every possible facet of life (unless they were blessed with a family that tries to act as a buffer, which is not infallible either). THAT is why you people aren’t seeing eye-to-eye.

  52. Ollie says:

    K.A. – Assuming the last line was in response to my posts – huh? I don’t recall at any point disagreeing with anything you’ve said, my points have been completely separate, and I agreed that ECT shouldn’t be forced on this woman in this situation. I DO think women get discriminated against in terms of psychological illness, but that isn’t the point I’ve been trying to make.

    flawedplan – I’m happy to consider dissenters – its a major part of BEING a scientist. I mean, after all, if I was COMPLETELY dismissive of that, why would I come here asking for sources? The point is that we have to decide for ourselves what sources seem the most trustworthy to us. I trust empirical studies more than non-empirical ones, you clearly feel differently. To each his/her own. So far the only one I have been exceedingly harsh towards is Breggin and that’s because he hasn’t really done anything that I would consider empirical. When he does, he gets my respect, no questions asked. Until then I trust empirical work 100000x more. Its pretty obvious he has enough of a following he could get funding if he wanted it so that isn’t the issue, and he knows the scientific community would be more apt to listen to him if he did something empirical, so I’m not sure why he hasn’t yet.

    As for CATIE, I read it the day after it came out actually. We discussed it in a lab meeting, and in class. It actually doesn’t prove the drugs don’t work, just that the new ones aren’t MORE effective. Not that that isn’t an enormous problem, and a disgusting attempt to make more money, just that it isn’t technically accurate. The old ones do work (albeit not well for a large percentage of folks).

    Also, the study is on antipsychotics – can you point out where it was I made the assertion that antipsychotics work? I don’t remember saying so and couldn’t find it above. Antidepressants are more relevant since they are more in-line with the ect discussion (save for catatonics). I did make the assertion that antibiotics work, is that what you’re thinking of?

  53. Violet says:

    Ollie,

    You said:

    “Are we just disagreeing on the idea of one person’s subjective experiences adding up to more on the whole?”

    It’s not one person; there’s not just one person out there with a bad ECT experience. There are thousands and thousands and thousands of people, all telling the same story.

    Okay, the rape analogy works on several levels. Here was your original comment:

    “The reason I’d read those is because outcome studies are controlled, personal narratives are snapshots. You can use snapshots to prove anything, but you are then ignoring the whole picture.”

    I think you have it backwards. An empirical study only gives the information it was designed to elicit; any study is only as good as its design. To think that an outcome study automatically gives the whole picture of a phenomenon is a little credulous.

    For example, I could design and execute a study right now to determine if rape has an adverse effect on women. Let’s say I decide that what I’m going to look for is variance in income-potential as measured six months after the attack. My results show that there is no statistically significant difference in the income potential between women who have been raped, as measured at six months after the attack, and women who have not been raped. Ergo, rape is not really a bad thing.

    Someone might come along and point out that I’ve ignored the volumes and volumes of women’s personal testimony about what a horrible experience it is to be raped, but I could reply that a) those are just personal narratives, and b) personal anguish isn’t really quantifiable, so I prefer to stick with my income potential measures.

    Someone else might ask why on earth I thought income potential after six months was an appropriate way to measure rape impact, and if I were truly honest in a self-aware kind of way I would say that it’s because those are measurable things, and besides, they give the result I want (that rape isn’t so bad). But you know, most biased researchers aren’t that aware of their own bias.

    You’ll probably say that no ECT study is that badly designed, but I disagree. The studies that show positive results do tend to be just that limited. But I urge you to read the papers I’ve cited (also on that bibliography page I gave you in the last comment), where critical review shows that there is no actual improvement from ECT past a few weeks, and that the initial improvement (if any) is most likely just the immediate effect of being dazed and the body’s response to physical trauma (which was exactly what was happening with insulin shock).

    As for the brain damage, as I said, the pro-shock doctors haven’t been interested in studying that. If you don’t ask about it, you won’t find it.

    You’re right that people need to look at the whole picture, but the whole picture isn’t contained in those positive empirical studies.

    By the same token, a single case study doesn’t give the whole picture either, but we’re not talking about a single case study. There are thousands of them.

    But back to the rape analogy:

    As feminists, we ought to be aware of how establishment orthodoxy has so frequently been structured to validate orthodoxy and to silence women’s voices. You may not know, but before Second Wave feminism, the experience of rape was defined by men, by male perspectives on what women were supposed to feel. It took feminism in the 70s for rape survivors to say, no, you don’t just lie back and enjoy it, no, it’s not something you secretly want, no, no, no. This is what it feels like, this is what it does: listen to my personal narrative.

    With shock, something like 3/4 of the people speaking out about their experience are women. These are women’s voices being ignored. If you still haven’t read the two Bonnie Burstow papers I linked to, please do.

    And finally, there is the question of just how patient rape survivors or shock survivors or their allies are supposed to be. No, I’m not implying that FlawedPlan is a shock survivor (or a rape survivor), but she is a psych patients’ rights advocate, and she’s been on this merry-go-round for years. That’s why it’s like a rape survivor — or, better analogy, someone who works down at the rape crisis shelter — being fed to the teeth when the MRAs start in with “most rape accusations are false, I have study from Purdue which proves it, blah blah blah blah.”

  54. flawedplan says:

    Oh Ollie, what do atypicl anti-psychotics have to do in a discussion on ECT? Market expansion for one. These useless, injurious, and overpriced compounds are the first line of treatment for people with bi-polar, anxiety, psychotic and depressive disorders.

    It’s in the national teatment algorithm (T-MAP, no longer enthusiastically endorsed by the US gov’t (SAMHSA), but jesus christ, who was listening while the bodies piled up? And are still piling up.)

    Alliance for Human Research Protection:

    …TMAP recommends the atypical antipsychotics and the [selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor-serotonin norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor] antidepressants as first line-and sometimes the ONLY treatment. … However, a body of scientific evidence recently disclosed to the public has revealed that these drugs lack efficacy and that they are linked to severe, even fatal side effects. The compelling, newly revealed evidence has caused SAMHSA to dissociate from these medication algorithms.”

    They’re working to “revise” the formula, maybe this one will include patient perspective but I wouldn’t hold my breath. The word for resistant patients is “non-compliant”, and that non-compliance is a result of a “lack of insight” into our mental illness and need for domination. Our handlers weren’t counting on articulate, reasoned and informed critique, but it’s growing and isn’t going away.

    Science is great, but it’s important to denounce greed and sadism that hides behind the mantle of science, and get connected to what goes on outside the laboratory — including coercion; which means you know this is not good for you, but you can’t say “no”. Huh. Goodbye to all that.

    Sorry for hi-jacking this amazing thread.

  55. kate says:

    While I don’t debate that the use of ECT enters into a moral grey area, I do wonder if this is necessarily a woman’s issue. Yes, two to three times as many women receive the treatment, but two to three times as many women will suffer from and seek help for depression.

    I must admit, I find myself more interested in why THIS disparity exists and what can be done about it.

  56. Violet says:

    Kate, the studies I’ve cited have found that women are shocked two to three times as often as men regardless of diagnosis. Shock doctors always say more women are shocked because more women suffer from depression, but ECT isn’t just given for depression. It’s still given to patients with schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, mania, etc. — and regardless of the diagnosis, far more women get shocked than men.

  57. Until the Sugar Melts says:

    Shattering the Human Organism

    “This disturbing post over at Reclusive Leftist examines the intersection between ECT and feminism…”

  58. Reclusive Leftist » Blog Archive » Simone D. story makes the Carnival of Feminists says:

    [...] Violet: ……posted to "Why isn’t the feminist blogosphere all over this?" at 5:05 pm EST on July 19, 2007 [...]

  59. Ollie says:

    Last post for quite some time since I’m packing up my computer tomorrow to move cross-country. Hope to get those articles read during the drive though Violet:)

    Your last post clarified a great number of things, which I truly appreciate. I would just like to point out though, that out of the thousands of case studies you mention, there are also plenty with a good outcome. My problem with people like Breggin, and the reason I’ve religated him to the status of philosopher, is that in the works that I have read, he ONLY presents cases that prove his point, and ignores those that do not. No reputable writer would do that. They would present ALL perspectives, and show why their viewpoint is better. Empirical works tend to do this inherently (provided it is done correctly), which is why I respect them more, but you do make a more than fair point about the quantity of these case studies. If we’re going to make decisions as drastic as banning ect when it HAS helped some people, I don’t just want to see one argument made, I want to see the opposing argument refuted.

    flawedplan – just a few points.
    1)Still waiting for you to point out where I made that assertion about antipsychotics because I really can’t remember doing it.
    2) I don’t know what kind of crap-ass doctors are in your area, but atypicals are almost NEVER first-line for ANYTHING other than psychotic disorders, and occasionally severe bipolar disorder(though even then mood stabilizers/anticonvulsants are almost always tried first). I’ve worked in 3 different psychiatry departments here and I’ve never even HEARD of someone using them as first-lines for typical presentations of depression or anxiety. The other options are too plentiful.
    3) They aren’t useless. They work great for some folks. Admittedly not as many as they should, but that’s quite different from “useless”.

  60. One Still Flies Over the Cuckoo’s Nest « The Apostate says:

    [...] Apparently, I was wrong, if this woman’s story, as told at Reclusive Leftist’s blog, is anything to go by. [...]

  61. flawedplan says:

    I don’t know what kind of crap-ass doctors are in your area, but atypicals are almost NEVER first-line for ANYTHING other than psychotic disorders

    Ollie, in my paid job I track legislation, and in free time blog like in the netroots fahion, where consumer/expatient/survivors like me post stories like the following on a daily basis:

    Fla St. Ptrsbrg Times

    The Atypical Dilemma
    July 29,2007

    Skyrocketing numbers of kids are prescribed powerful antipsychotic drugs. Is it safe? Nobody knows.

    More and more, parents at wit’s end are begging doctors to help them calm their aggressive children or control their kids with ADHD. More and more, doctors are prescribing powerful antipsychotic drugs.

    In the past seven years, the number of Florida children prescribed such drugs has increased some 250 percent. Last year, more than 18,000 state kids on Medicaid were given prescriptions for antipsychotic drugs.

    Even children as young as 3 years old. Last year, 1,100 Medicaid children under 6 were prescribed antipsychotics, a practice so risky that state regulators say it should be used only in extreme cases.

    These numbers are just for children on fee-for-service Medicaid, generally the poor and disabled. Thousands more kids on private insurance are also on antipsychotics.

    Almost entirely driving this spiraling trend is the rise of a class of antipsychotic drugs called atypicals.

    These drugs emerged in the 1990s and replaced the older, “typical” antipsychotics like Haldol or Thorazine, which are often associated with Parkinson-like shakes.

    The atypicals were developed to treat schizophrenia and bipolar disorder in adults. But once on the market, doctors are free to prescribe them to children, and for uses not approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

    There is almost no research on the long-term effects of such powerful medications on the developing brains of children. The more that researchers learn, the less comfortable many are becoming with atypicals.

    Initially billed as wonder drugs with few significant side effects, evidence is mounting that they can cause rapid weight gain, diabetes, even death.

    They’re also expensive. On average last year, it cost Medicaid nearly $1,800 for each child on atypical antipsychotics. In the last seven years, the cost to taxpayers for atypical antipsychotics prescribed to children in Florida jumped nearly 500 percent, from $4.7-million to $27.5-million.

    Medicaid and insurance companies have fed the problem, encouraging the use of psychiatric drugs as they reimburse less and less for labor-intensive psychotherapy and occupational therapy.

    Another factor: Doctors have been influenced by pharmaceutical companies, which have aggressively marketed atypicals.

    Whatever the reasons for the soaring use of psychiatric drugs in children, things have gotten out of whack, according to Dr. Ronald Brown. Last year he headed an American Psychological Association committee that looked into the issue.

    “The bottom line is that the use of psychiatric medications far exceeds the evidence of safety and effectiveness,” Brown said.

    “What people need to do is what’s in the best interest of children instead of what’s in the best interest of people’s pocketbooks. But children don’t vote.”

    The ever-increasing number of kids who come through the doors of pediatrician Esther Gonzalez’s office lead chaotic lives. There’s more divorce and more drug use, more domestic violence and physical and sexual abuse. Working parents are overwhelmed.

    …Despite her concerns about prescribing such medications, Gonzalez has no doubt they have saved many a child from juvenile detention…Among her patients is 7-year-old Matthew Peck of Brooksville. His 13-year-old brother and 16-year-old sister show scars on their arms and legs where he has bitten them. He flies into rages, kicks, scratches and pulls hair. He destroys furniture and punches holes in the wall.

    His mom, Cathy Peck, said Matthew’s doctors are “leaning toward” a diagnosis of oppositional defiance disorder. And he has attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)….Matthew has taken a 5 mg dose of the atypical Abilify for over two months now…

    …Last year, 1,111 Florida Medicaid children younger than 6 were prescribed antipsychotics.

    …Alan Levine ran the state’s Agency for Health Care Administration in 2005. He became so alarmed by the spike in antipsychotics prescribed to children that he contracted with USF to study the trend.

    The study found that from mid 2002 to mid 2004, the cost of psychotropic drug prescriptions for kids increased 60 percent. Pacing that increase was an 82 percent jump in spending on atypical antipsychotics.

    “It has very quietly grown as a problem,” Levine said.

    Another common problem…. the practice of prescribing more than one antipsychotic at a time. Some doctors swear it works, but there isn’t much scientific evidence to back that up. The first three months this year, 274 children were prescribed two or more antipsychotics for an extended period.

    Joanne Mills’ 12-year-old son was on 16 medications. At the same time.

    That’s right, sixteen. Please read the whole story. For the sake of objectivity I left the sad parts out of this post.

  62. mAndrea says:

    Anytime I hear that women comprise the vast majority of cases of something as controversial as ECT, very loud alarm bells go off.

    It’s as if sexism exists in its own little box, and has nothing to do with individual women. In reality, anything to do with women should be examined for sexist attitudes.

    Yes, women suffer from depression more than men. They are also raped, sexually assualted, harrassed, stalked, subjected to double standards and descrimination far more. Of course women are going to experience higher rates of depression! But when the rates of ECT usage coorelate much higher than depression rates, something is obviously amiss, and an examination of sexism is required.

    This woman doesn’t want this treatment. There is no concensus that forcing it upon her will benefit her. The forcing seems to cause her great distress. Yet, male doctors and male judges and male internet posters want to force her anyway. What does this say about these males?

  63. Reclusive Leftist » Blog Archive » Forced electroshock: what’s good for the goose is totally unacceptable for the gander says:

    [...] mAndrea: ……posted to "Why isn’t the feminist blogosphere all over this?" at 1:41 am EST on August 8, 2007 [...]

  64. Reclusive Leftist » Blog Archive » Simone D. wins! says:

    [...] The original Simone D. post: Why isn’t the feminist blogosphere all over this? [...]