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Testimony of Linda Andre, Director of Committee for Truth in Psychiatry

New York State Assembly, May 18, 2001

Linda Andre, Director of Committee for Truth in Psychiatry and survivor of ECT testifies against forced electroshock, ECT. Read testimony.My name is Linda Andre, and I am a survivor of ECT. I had a fairly typical experience. Five years of my life were permanently erased as if they had never happened, including most of my college education; I lost 40 points off my IQ; and I've been left with permanent disabling memory and cognitive deficits. I have brain damage from ECT, and it's very similar to what happens to persons who suffer traumatic brain injuries from other causes such as car crashes. Let me hasten to say that I received what's often falsely called the "new and improved" ECT and that every doctor who consulted on my case agreed and will tell you to this day that my treatment was state of the art and done according to the specifications of the APA. Since 1985, I have been the New York Representative of the national organization of persons who've received ECT, the Committee for Truth in Psychiatry; in 1992, I became the Director of our organization.

I'd like to add that although I'm not a doctor, I passed the CME test that supposedly qualifies doctors to give shock. I've got the certificate to prove it.

The reason why there was and is a need for a national organization of ECT survivors is that there are big problems with this treatment, as you're hearing today. In a nutshell, the problem is that patients aren't truthfully informed of the known permanent adverse consequences of ECT, including permanent extensive memory loss and permanent brain damage. The industry, much like the tobacco industry, won't acknowledge these effects and ex-mental patients haven't got the political clout to make them.

Throughout the history of ECT, there has been conflict between doctors and patients. This conflict is at the very heart of the Paul Henri Thomas case, and the other forced shock cases in New York. What survivors know to be true about ECT, and what doctors believe, are opposed and are irreconcilable. Survivors and shock doctors cannot both be right. I sat through the Thomas court hearings, and I heard the doctors say that they considered Paul incompetent because he did not agree with their assessment of the risks and benefits of shock. I heard what the doctors said, and I don't agree with them either, nor would any of the members or our organization. I guess that makes all of us incompetent as well. Paul came to his conclusions by experiencing ECT. His doctors said they formed their opinions on ECT by reading a book. (There isn't major book on ECT that isn't written by a doctor with financial ties to the shock machine industry, as an owner, shareholder, grantee or consultant to these companies.) Paul's doctors believed things that are not true, such as that the FDA has performed safety trials of ECT; but then what matters in these hearings is not so much what is true as who has the power to define the truth.

Our group organized because we all had ECT without informed consent, we all suffered permanent memory loss, and we want to protect future patients from suffering tragically preventable amnesia and disability. Our one and only mission is to advocate for truthful informed consent, and we've done that over the past sixteen years in a wide variety of forums. In fact, Marilyn Rice, the founder of our group, testified before the New York Assembly at your first hearings on ECT in 1977. We called ourselves the Committee for Truth in Psychiatry to emphasize that we are for informed consent, not against ECT. Marilyn liked to say, "I'm not against ECT, I'm against lying about ECT."

In my position as Director of CTIP I've been in contact with literally thousands of ECT survivors from around the world over the past decade. I keep up with the industry research on ECT; I attend and present at psychiatric conferences; I write and publish on ECT; I consult with agencies such as the Center for Mental Health Services. I've worked with states which have passed or tried to pass laws to protect patients. This last includes an unsuccessful reporting bill in New York State in the early 90s, and reporting bills that were successful in Texas and Vermont. But CTIP's biggest accomplishment has been getting the Food and Drug Administration to acknowledge the risks of ECT, including brain damage and memory loss.

The FDA regulates ECT because the machines used to give it are considered medical devices. It is somewhat limited in its authority because ECT machines were in use before the FDA gained jurisdiction over medical devices in 1976. FDA was mandated by law to place the shock machines in one of its three medical devices categories, Class I, Class II, or Class III. Briefly, Class I would be an over-the-counter device, Class II one which is safe if used according to certain standards or safeguards, and Class III one which presents an unreasonable risk of injury or harm and cannot be made safe. To classify a device, FDA weighs its risks against its benefits. At the end of my presentation, I will tell you what the FDA says about shock machines. But first I will do what the FDA did, and give you an overview of what we know about ECT's risks and benefits.

ECT patients have been reporting permanent adverse memory and nonmemory cognitive effects ever since shock began in 1938. The nature and frequency of these reports has not changed in over 60 years. Let me explain that the so-called modifications of ECT have had no effect on these permanent adverse effects. You may have heard claims that oxygenation, muscle paralyzers, so-called brief pulse ECT, or unilateral ECT have solved the problems with memory loss and brain damage. But all of these modifications were in use by the 1950s, and none of them eliminated or minimized ECT's effects on memory and on the brain. You may also have heard that today's ECT uses "less electricity" than in the 50s, 60s, 70's, and 80s. The opposite is true. Today's ECT devices are the most powerful in history. Each new generation of machine is designed to put out more electricity than the one before it. This means, for example, that a person getting shocked today is probably getting more electricity through her brain than I did in 1984.

In the early decades of ECT, doctors were frank about sacrificing the brains, intellects, and careers of their patients in the hope of a temporary respite from depression. Since about 1975, the beginning of what I call the public relations era of ECT----that is, the period when organized psychiatry decided to deny there was any problem with ECT itself in favor of claiming there was simply an image problem with ECT---they have attempted to deny or cover up memory loss and brain damage, just as they have stopped writing up ECT deaths.

Even so, it is accurate to say that when researchers looked for the type of memory and cognitive deficits survivors report, and used measures that were relevant to these deficits, they have found them. There are just a handful of studies that follow ECT patients up for the long term, asking about memory. But the studies that have done this--followed patients for six months, a year, three years, and in one very brief and limited study, seven years---have all found that the majority of these patients still have amnesia and memory disability. There is nothing to support the industry's claim that memory or memory ability returns to normal shortly after ECT. In fact, patients tested as long as twenty years after ECT had brain damage verified by sensitive neuropsychological tests.

Last Updated: 23 June 2016
Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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