Electroconvulsive Therapy: Will The FDA Whitewash It?

Will The FDA Whitewash Electroconvulsive Therapy?
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For decades the FDA has allowed electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) to be used without requiring any proof of safety or efficacy. The machines and the treatment have been "grandfathered" into use rather than tested. A few years ago the FDA proposed to test the treatment but heavy pressure from the American Psychiatric Association caused the agency to reverse itself. ECT remains untested and widely used. Imagine that -- the American Psychiatric Association doesn't want an obviously dangerous treatment to be tested at all. It just wants psychiatrists left alone to inflict it upon hapless patients.

Now the FDA is reconsidering whether to officially approve ECT without testing and it seems inclined to do so. Given the strength and influence of the American Psychiatric Association, we can anticipate results that will whitewash the dangers and allow the continued use of ECT unhampered by scientific testing. The hearings are scheduled for January 27 and 28, 2011. Anyone can attend and I encourage all interested citizens to get involved by contacting the FDA and asking for time to make a brief presentation.

I have written to the FDA explaining that the treatment has so little efficacy and is so obviously damaging -- it routinely produces an acute state of delirium and confusion with severe memory loss -- that it should be banned. That document has now been published in two scientific journals. It supplements my chapter on ECT in Brain-Disabling Treatments in Psychiatric: Drugs, ECT and the Psychopharmaceutical Complex, Second Edition (2008).

As I noted in my scientific article and my 2008 book, and in a previous ECT blog, Sackeim and colleagues from the heart of the psychiatric establishment once again confirmed that ECT routinely produces long-term dementia in the form of multiple memory loss in combination with other persistent cognitive deficits. Now a new scientific analysis has confirmed all the bad news about ECT.

The recent review of the scientific literature by John Read (New Zealand) and Richard Bentall (Great Britain) found that ECT treatments show only the most minimal evidence for improvement during the treatment and no evidence for improvement afterward. As my own research confirms, they found no evidence that ECT reduces the suicide rate.

Read and Bentall summarized "strong evidence" for "persistent and, for some, permanent brain dysfunction." They concluded that "the cost-benefit analysis for ECT is so poor that its use cannot be scientifically justified." They further stated, "The continued use of ECT therefore represents a failure to introduce the ideals of evidence-based medicine into psychiatry."

The sad truth is that psychiatry has always promoted brain-damaging treatments, including lobotomy, electroshock and toxic chemical substances. In the 1970s I conducted an intensive international campaign to stop the resurgence of lobotomy and others forms of psychosurgery, and if my campaign had not been successful, lobotomy would have once again become widely accepted within contemporary psychiatry. Using media citations and other sources, that campaign and its success is documented in The Conscience of Psychiatry: The Reform Work of Peter R. Breggin, MD.

Because ECT advocates have successfully lobbied against the states collecting data on ECT use, we can only speculate about the numbers of patients subjected to this treatment. Probably it is at least in the range of 150,000 to 200,000 per year. Most large cities have several facilities doing ECT including private psychiatric hospitals and university hospitals and general hospitals with psychiatric wards.

Elderly women on Medicare are the most frequent victims of this anachronistic abuse, but anyone who gets depressed and overwhelmed with feelings of helplessness can become vulnerable. It's not your mental condition as much as your doctor's moral condition that determines whether you get pushed into taking ECT. Recently I've encountered three relatively young physicians whose professional lives were ruined by ECT-induced mental dysfunction.

It's time for public outrage and it's time for the FDA to close the door on this abusive "treatment."

Peter R. Breggin, M.D. is a psychiatrist in private practice in Ithaca, New York, and the author of dozens of scientific articles and more than twenty books. His two most recent books are Medication Madness: The Role of Psychiatric Drugs in Cases of Violence, Suicide and Crime and Brain-Disabling Treatments in Psychiatry, Second Edition: Drugs, Electroshock and the Psychopharmaceutical Complex. Dr. Breggin and his wife Ginger have founded a new organization, The Center for the Study of Empathic Therapy, Education and Living (empathictherapy.org). It will hold an international conference in Syracuse, New York, April 8-10, 2011. It's time to sign up!

The Dr. Peter Breggin Hour appears weekly on the Progressive Radio Network where it is archived for convenient listening. Dr. Breggin's professional website is www.breggin.com.

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