TESTIMONY OF LEONARD ROY FRANK AT A PUBLIC HEARING ON ELECTROCONVULSIVE "TREATMENT" BEFORE THE MENTAL HEALTH COMMITTEE OF THE NEW YORK STATE ASSEMBLY, MARTIN A. LUSTER (CHAIRMAN), MANHATTAN, 18 MAY 2001
My name is Leonard Roy Frank, from San Francisco, and I'm here representing the Support Coalition International based in Eugene, Oregon. SCI unites 100 sponsoring groups who oppose all forms of psychiatric oppression and support humane approaches for assisting people said to be "mentally ill." This year the United Nations recognized Support Coalition International as "a Non-Governmental Organization with Consultative Roster Status."
I've taken the epigraph for my presentation from a talk on the Holocaust by Hadassah Lieberman, the wife of Sen. Joseph Lieberman, which was rebroadcast on C-SPAN last month. She quoted the Bal Shem Tov, founder of Hasidism: "In remembrance lies the secret of redemption."
Some personal background is relevant to the substance of my testimony: I was born in 1932 in Brooklyn and was raised there. After graduating from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, I served in the U.S. Army and then worked as a real estate salesman for several years. In 1962, three years after moving to San Francisco, I was diagnosed as a "paranoid schizophrenic" and committed to a psychiatric institution where I was forcibly subjected to 50 insulin-coma and 35 electroconvulsive procedures.
This was the most painful and humiliating experience of my life. My memory for the three preceding years was gone. The wipe-out in my mind was like a path cut across a heavily chalked blackboard with a wet eraser. Afterwards, I didn't know that John F. Kennedy was president although he had been elected three years earlier. There were also big chunks of memory loss for events and periods spanning my entire life; my high school and college education was effectively destroyed. I felt that every part of me was less than what it had been.
Following years of study reeducating myself, I became active in the psychiatric survivors movement, becoming a staff member of Madness Network News (1972) and co-founding the Network Against Psychiatric Assault (1974) -- both based in San Francisco and dedicated to ending abuses in the psychiatric system. In 1978 I edited and published The History of Shock Treatment. Since 1995, three books of quotations I edited have been published: Influencing Minds, Random House Webster's Quotationary, and Random House Webster's Wit & Humor Quotationary.
Over the last thirty-five years I have researched the various shock procedures, particularly electroshock or ECT, have spoken with hundreds of ECT survivors, and have corresponded with many others. From all these sources and my own experience, I have concluded that ECT is a brutal, dehumanizing, memory-destroying, intelligence-lowering, brain-damaging, brainwashing, life-threatening technique. ECT robs people of their memories, their personality and their humanity. It reduces their capacity to lead full, meaningful lives; it crushes their spirits. Put simply, electroshock is a method for gutting the brain in order to control and punish people who fall or step out of line, and intimidate others who are on the verge of doing so.
Brain damage is the most important effect of ECT. Brain damage is, in fact, the 800-pound gorilla in the living room whose existence psychiatrists refuse to acknowledge, at least publicly. Nowhere is this more clearly illustrated than in the American Psychiatric Association's 2001 Task Force Report on The Practice of Electroconvulsive Therapy: Recommendations for Treatment, Training, and Privileging, 2nd ed. (p. 102), which states that "in light of the accumulated body of data dealing with structural effects of ECT, 'brain damage' should not be included [in the ECT consent form] as a potential risk of treatment."
But 50 years ago, when some proponents were careless with the truth about ECT, Paul H. Hoch, co-author of a major psychiatric textbook and New York State's Commissioner of Mental Hygiene, commented, "This brings us for a moment to a discussion of the brain damage produced by electroshock.... Is a certain amount of brain damage not necessary in this type of treatment? Frontal lobotomy indicates that improvement takes place by a definite damage of certain parts of the brain." ("Discussion and Concluding Remarks," Journal of Personality, 1948, vol. 17, pp. 48-51)
More recently, neurologist Sidney Sament backed the brain-damage charge in a letter to Clinical Psychiatry News (March 1983, p. 11):
"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....
In all cases the ECT 'response' is due to the concussion-type, or more serious, effect of ECT. The patient 'forgets' his symptoms because the brain damage destroys memory traces in the brain, and the patient has to pay for this by a reduction in mental capacity of varying degree."
Additional evidence of ECT-caused brain damage was published in an earlier APA Task Force Report on Electroconvulsive Therapy (1978). Forty-one percent of a large group of psychiatrists responding to a questionnaire agreed with the statement that ECT produces "slight or subtle brain damage." Only 28 percent disagreed (p. 4).
And finally there is the evidence from the largest published survey of ECT-related deaths. In his Diseases of the Nervous System article titled "Prevention of Fatalities in Electroshock Therapy" (July 1957), psychiatrist David J. Impastato, a leading ECT proponent, reported 66 "cerebral" deaths among the 235 cases in which he was able to determine the likely cause of death following ECT (p. 34).