LUSTER OFFERS ELECTROCONVULSIVE THERAPY BILLS

Assemblyman Marty Luster (D-Ithaca), chairman of the Assembly's Mental Health Committee, today announced introduction of a comprehensive package of legislation to respond to the increased use of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) in New York State. Luster also announced that the committee will hold a second public hearing on the subject,

ECT, a medical procedure that entails sending an electric charge through an individual's brain in order to trigger a grand mal seizure, is a method used to help people with certain mental illnesses. While advocates claim positive results using ECT, opponents charge that ECT causes brain damage and, in most cases, permanent memory loss.

Luster said that the Assembly first became aware of current issues surrounding ECT use at a public hearing held in February 2001, to address the Governor's proposed closing of certain psychiatric centers. A witness at that hearing called upon the Legislature to look into the case of Paul Henri Thomas, a patient at the Pilgrim Psychiatric Center, who was being given ECT against his will.

"As a result of our investigation, we became aware of other patients who claim to have been subjected to ECT against their will and the wishes of their families, as well as a plethora of problems and issues concerning the use of ECT," said Luster. Also of concern to Luster is the fact that Mental Hygiene Legal Services has reviewed applications for court-ordered, involuntary ECT and has found that such applications have increased over 70 percent from 1999 to 2000.

The committee held a public hearing on ECT in New York City on May 18.

"It was clear from a review of the literature, pre-hearing interviews with advocates and opponents of ECT, and from the testimony provided at the public hearing that the Legislature needs to better understand ECT use and to act to ensure that ECT is being utilized safely," Luster said.

As a result of its inquiries, Luster said the committee has:

-- requested that the NYS Commission on Quality of Care for the mentally-disabled look into the matter of Paul Henri Thomas. After an initial report, Chairman Luster has requested that the Commission revisit that case with a focus on alleged violations of regulations and procedures.

-- drafted legislation that:

1. Requires the Office of Mental Health (OMH) to identify the incidence of ECT in New York State in both public and private hospitals;

2. Requires patient follow-up and reporting to OMH regarding patient deaths or illnesses following ECT;

3. Prohibits the use of ECT in doctors' offices or other locations that do not have emergency medical facilities;

4. Clarifies issues related to the "informed consent" process;

5. Creates a temporary Advisory Council to assist the commissioner of the Office of Mental Health in developing procedures and practices that shall be followed by all facilities using ECT in New York State, including: licensing requirements for clinicians wishing to administer ECT; patient monitoring, before, during and after ECT; bans on the clinical use of certain ECT equipment; and procedures to be followed when surrogate consent for ECT is sought and refused.

-- scheduled a second public hearing for July 18th in Albany to further investigate ECT, and, in particular, the issues of informed consent and procedural safeguards that may be necessary when involuntary, court ordered ECT is being considered.

Luster expressed his appreciation for the assistance the committee has received from experts on the use of ECT. In particular, he commended Anne Krauss, a former employee of OMH, who was forced to resign her position for advocating on behalf of Paul Henri Thomas and Anna Szyszko, sister of Adam S., another patient at Pilgrim Psychiatric Hospital. Luster noted that in her testimony, Szyszko stated, "While the hospital is fighting for the rights to control and limit Adam's treatment options, my brothers mental health is deteriorating; no one, therefore, can convince me that they have their best intentions in mind for Adam.

Luster said the committee's work is providing the first careful look given ECT by the state Legislature since the mid-1970s.
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Note: Attached are background documents on the use of ECT.