CCHR Says Italy is Setting Precedent
for Banning Electroshock Treatment

1/5/2000

LOS ANGELES, Jan. 5 /PRNewswire/ -- The Citizens Commission on Human Rights(R) (CCHR), a psychiatric watchdog group, reports that the Italian region of Piedmonte, Northern Italy, has approved an historic state law banning the use of Electro Convulsive Treatment (ECT) on children, the elderly and pregnant women. Regional Bill N. 561 states that in the Piedmont Region, in accordance with the deliberations of the United Nations, of the European Council and of the Italian Republic in matters of human rights, it is [hereby] forbidden to use ECT on children, the elderly and pregnant women, and if ECT is to be used at all, the psychiatrist in charge must adhere to strict guidelines including supplying both in writing and verbally the possible harmful side effects of the treatment.

This victory for human rights carries even greater significance, as Italy was the birthplace of electroshock treatment. In 1938, Italian psychiatrist Ugo Cerletti, saw slaughterhouse workers using electric shock devices to cause epileptic fits in pigs, easing the job of slitting their throats. Cerletti was inspired, and began experimenting with electroshock on humans, developing the first Electroshock machine. Broken bones and fractured vertebrae that resulted from the convulsions appeared to be of little concern.

In the 1960s, psychiatrists began adding muscle relaxants to ECT practices and called it "modified." Today, psychiatrists promote ECT as safe and effective, yet nothing could be further from the truth. ECT sends up to 460 volts of electricity searing through the brain to produce an epileptic fit in the patient. ECT can cause brain damage, memory loss, intellectual impairment and even death.

In a 1992 report by the Royal College of Psychiatrists in Britain on ECT, 21% of surveyed psychiatrists reported "long term side-effects and risks of brain damage, memory loss [and] intellectual impairment." A 1995 survey of ECT patients by the UK Advocacy Network revealed that one-third of 300 patients surveyed believed ECT had damaged them and an astounding 80% claimed it had irreparably destroyed their memory.

One of ECT's most notable victims, Nobel prize winning author Ernest Hemingway, said ECT erased his memory, thus denying him his writing and his life. With his memory gone, Hemingway stated, "It was a brilliant cure but we lost the patient ..."

Today, more than 100,000 Americans reportedly undergo ECT each year, including the elderly, children and pregnant women.

Perhaps the Surgeon General should take note. In his report on Mental Health, released on December 13, ECT patients were outraged to find the brutal treatment called "safe and effective." On the contrary, not only can ECT cause brain damage and memory loss, it can be deadly, though the resultant deaths are not exact. USA Today reported that doctors rarely report shock treatment on death certificates even when the connections seem apparent and death certificate instructions clearly indicate that it should be noted.

An international psychiatric watchdog group, CCHR has long fought to ban ECT in countries around the world. Over the last two years, CCHR Italy has gotten over a hundred thousand signatures on petitions to ban ECT throughout Italy. With over 128 chapters around the world, CCHR will continue to oppose ECT until it is banned internationally. CCHR was established in 1969 by the Church of Scientology to expose psychiatric violations of human rights.