New York Post
March 3, 2001



Anna Szyszko (right), with mother Lucyna, holds a picture of her brother, Adam, who she says has been involuntarily given shock therapy.

"It" was a surge of electricity to the head of her 25-year-old brother, Adam.

Adam, a schizophrenic, had just been transferred to Long Island's Pilgrim Psychiatric Center and officials there were adamant that they knew what was best for him.

Anna disagreed.

She says the electroshock treatments, which began four months ago, not only didn't help his condition one bit - they turned him into a virtual zombie.

"When we went to see him after the first [shock treatment], he had a blank look on his face - he looked like he went through hell," Szyszko said yesterday.

"Three days later, when I asked him about it, he said, 'What shock treatment?'"

Her father, Bogdan, 51, who immigrated from Poland when that country was a communist dictatorship, said, "Even over there, if the family was against the treatment, they'd stop."

Her family has been battling Pilgrim in the courts and recently got a temporary reprieve when a judge issued a temporary restraining order barring more treatments for Adam.

Adam's lawyer, Dennis Feld, said the hospital "is being strident in trying to force shock treatment on him.

"I think they know some clients are very much afraid of it, opposed to it, and that deference to the client's wishes is not given."

Szyszko is among four patients at state facilities suing the state Office of Mental Health to bar involuntary electroshock treatments.

The state's Commission on Quality Care began investigating the issue after Assemblyman Marty Luster (D-Ithaca) called for a probe.

OMH spokesman Roger Klingman said the use of electroshock "is a clinical decision that is used judiciously on a case-by-case basis."

Mental patients can voluntarily get electroshocks if they sign a consent form. If they don't, a hospital needs a judge's order before administering it. And the hospital usually has no trouble getting a judge to agree.

Feld also represents Paul Henri Thomas, whose electroshock treatment at Pilgrim over the past two years has galvanized advocacy groups across the country.

The groups charge that the hospital is purposely punishing the Haitian immigrant.

Even while his lawyers were attempting to get a temporary restraining order to halt the treatment - and after the hospital promised to hold off until a judge ruled - Thomas was zapped again, Feld said.

During a competency hearing yesterday before Suffolk County Supreme Court Justice Bromley Hall, Thomas, a schizophrenic, testified on his own behalf to prove he was coherent enough to refuse electroshock treatment. The case will resume next week.

And that's the irony of the issue.

OMH for years has allowed mental patients to give their "informed consent" to be used as guinea pigs and get electroshock.

But when they refuse a treatment, like Thomas did, the doctors, with support from judges, decide they're incompetent.