Monday, July 25, 2005

ECT Survivor Wins Damages

First ever verdict in favor of electroshock victim Jury sides with victim, awards $635,000
A South Carolina woman has become the first survivor of ECT (“electroconvulsive therapy” or “shock treatment”) to prevail in a court of law.

Because of an intensive course of shock in 2000, Peggy S. Salters lost all memory of the previous 30 years of her life. She could not recall her husband of three decades or the births of her three children. Though she’d held a Masters of Science degree and had had a long career in nursing, she could not return to work as she no longer possessed the skills or knowledge of nursing.

Ms. Salters sued Palmetto Baptist Medical Center in Columbia, South Carolina as well as the three doctors responsible for her care. The jury found that her memory loss and cognitive impairment (which are demonstrable symptoms of brain damage) was due to ECT. While the jury could not return a verdict against two of the doctors, they found referring psychiatrist Eric Lewkowiez guilty of malpractice and awarded Salters $635,177 in compensation for her inability to work. Palmetto Baptist settled out of court for an undisclosed sum.

Ms. Salters was represented by attorney Mark Hardee.

Despite the average person-in-the-street's belief that shock treatment stopped at the same time that Jack Nicholson, as the character McMurphy, died in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, it is still widely used. For example, more than 100,000 American citizens are given ECT each year and two-thirds of these are women. It is currently is an estimated $5 billion a year industry in the United States.

But ask a psychiatrist today about how the mind or brain works and you will discover he doesn’t know. Ask him about how ECT “works” and he will also tell you he doesn’t know, that he isn’t an “expert on electricity.” However, he does have endless theories about it. These include:

“Is a destructive process that somehow makes for improvement. ”
“It yields a beneficial vegetative effect, ”
“Yields the unconscious experience of dying and resurrection,”
“Yields fear, which in turn causes remission (recovery),”
“...brings the personality ‘down to a lower level’ and so facilitates adjustment,”
“teaches the brain to resist seizures” which “dampens abnormally active brain circuits, stabilizing mood,”
“Depressed people often feel guilty, and ECT satisfies their need for punishment.”

The 2003 U.S. Mental Health Foundation ECT Fact Sheet states, “Shock damages the brain, causing memory loss and disorientation that creates an illusion that problems are gone, and euphoria, which is a frequently observed result of brain injury.”

In 2004, Dr. John Friedberg, a neurologist who has researched the effects of ECT for over 30 years, stated, “It is very hard to put into words just what shock treatment does to people generally.…it destroys people’s ambition, and…their vitality. It makes people rather passive and apathetic….Besides the amnesia, the apathy and the lack of energy is, in my view, the reason that…[psychiatrists] still get away with giving it.”

Dr. Colin Ross, a Texas psychiatrist, explains that existing ECT literature shows “there is a lot of brain damage, there is memory loss, the death rate does go up, the suicide rate doesn’t go down. [I]f those are the facts from a very well-designed, big study, then you’d have to conclude we shouldn’t do ECT.”

In a 1956 letter published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, ECT pioneer Lothar Kalinowsky admitted being privy to "personal communications on [ECT] fatalities which remain unpublished because of understandable fear of lawsuits." To paraphrase a well-known quote: “What they feared most has now happened to them.”

The Citizens Commission on Human Rights hails this major victory against psychiatry’s brutal treatments and acknowledges the persistence of Ms. Salters and attorney Mark Hardee. With case law now on the books, CCHR expects that such verdicts will soon become commonplace, followed by broad recognition by the legal system that psychiatrists who deliver ECT must be held accountable for the destruction that the “treatment” wreaks.


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