TESTIMONY OF NEUROLOGIST, JOHN M. FRIEDBERG, M.D.

BEFORE THE MENTAL HEALTH COMMITTEE OF
THE NEW YORK STATE ASSEMBLY

New York City, May 18, 2001

[emphases added]

INTRODUCTION

My name is John Friedberg. I am a board certified neurologist practicing in Berkeley, California.

I was born in Far Rockaway (NYC) in 1942, graduated Lawrence High School, Yale University and the University of Rochester School of Medicine and for the past twenty years I’ve been seeing patients with every conceivable neurological problem, from headaches to Huntington’s, in my office and in hospitals.

I am in good standing with my hospitals, professional societies and licensing boards and I’m proud to say I’ve never been successfully sued.

In 1975 I published my book "Shock Treatment Is Not Good For Your Brain" and in 1979 "Shock Treatment, Brain Damage and Memory Loss," a peer reviewed article in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

I do not believe in mental "illness." Depression is no more "the same as diabetes" than heartbreak is the same as a heart attack.

I do not believe in hypothetical diseases of the mind but there is no mistaking damage to the brain. Psychiatric drugs and electroshock inflict real injury in the name of treating fictive maladies. Paul Henri Thomas has

And this amazing story documents
that the supposedly beneficial
effects of shock are largely
based on the power
of suggestion!

Hospital Shocked by
Finding No Sock in
Its Shock Machine

by Raymond R. Coffey

Chicago Daily News,
September 20, 1974

London. For two years, patients in a mental hospital in the north of England were given electric shock treatments that — unknown to anyone — did not exist.

This bizarre story is recounted in an article in the current issue of World Medicine, a magazine for doctors published here every two weeks. And its author, a doctor involved in the treatment with the nonworking machine, suggests the experience raises a further question whether electric shock treatment — "electrical convulsive therapy," and a controversial treatment anyhow — really does patients any good. For, he says, the patients seemed to benefit as much from being put to sleep in preparation for the shock treatment — with anesthetics — as other patients do from the shock treatment itself.

The trouble began, he writes, when an old shock treatment machine quit working and was replaced with a new model that was "obviously a great improvement on the previous edition." This new machine, he says, "had dials and lights — and switches for different wave forms." But, although the red light went on and needles moved as they were supposed to, he noticed the patients were not twitching as they had under the old machine. He asked if the machine might not be working but was assured by the head nurse that "Yes, it is. This sort doesn't give any reaction (in the patients) . . . It's in the instructions." The doctor checked in the instructions, the nurse seemed to be right, and the doctor says, "We used the apparatus for two years with no complaints from the patients."

Then a new head nurse arrived on the scene and after assisting in only three treatments declared that the machine was "not working." She was told that it was, as patients were not supposed to "twitch" while under treatment from this type of machine. "Look," she said, "I've just come from a hospital with a machine just like this and they twitch all right." The machine was examined — and the new nurse was right.

"All the patients had been getting for two years," the doctor concludes, "was thiopentone and a shot of scoline (anesthetic to put them to sleep) — and no one had noticed."

Tardive Dyskinesia and hepatitis from psychiatric drugs and amnesia from ECT.

BASIS FOR OPINIONS


My opinions are based on my years of experience with patients and review of records from all over the country as an expert witness electroshock malpractice cases. They are based on ECT statistics from the six states which mandate reporting; and of necessity, my opinions are based on a lifetime following publications and statements issuing from the small but vocal minority of psychiatrists who believe in ECT and usually nothing but.

Fortunately for me, the believers don’t always believe each other; their data frequently belie their conclusions; and what they actually do contradicts what they say they do. The truth slips out.

As one example: we have known since the 1950’s that confining electroshock to the non-verbal hemisphere (usually the right as in "unilateral non-dominant ECT") causes less verbal impairment and memory loss than bilateral ECT but the recommendation to begin with non-dominant ECT is honored mostly in the breech.

Another example: the "grandfather" of ECT, Dr. Max Fink claims the rate of memory loss is 1 in 200. He has repeated this so often it sounds like a fact. But Harold Sackeim, Ph.D., just as much an enthusiast and just as aggressive [a user of ECT], says Fink’s figure has "no scientific basis."

Who to believe? My view is that memory loss from ECT is no "side effect;" it’s the main effect and the best studies find it in 100% of subjects.

Incidentally, Dr. Fink didn’t pick the number 1/200 out of thin air. 1/200 has consistently been the death rate from ECT administration - as far back as 1958 and as recently as Texas and Illinois in the 1990’s.

FIVE BIG LIES


Big Lie 1: Dr. Fink tells people that ECT is safer than childbirth. If one out of every 200 women were dying in delivery it would be front page news.

Big Lie 2: ECT doesn’t cause brain damage. One picture will refute that. This illustration [Editorial note:  If you have access to this illustration, please email it to us using the email link at the very bottom of this page.] depicts a large hemorrhage from ECT. Hemorrhages, large and small, cause permanent seizure disorders in some patients.  (Weisberg, L. Elliott, D and Mielke, D. 1991. Intracerebral Hemorrhage Following Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT). Neurology Vol. 41, p. 1849.)
Another MRI study documented a breakdown of the blood brain barrier and cerebral edemabrain swellingafter each and every shock. (Mander et al. 1987. British Journal of Psychiatry, Vol. 151, p. 69-71)

Big lie 3: ECT is new and improved. The whole point of ECT is to trigger a convulsion and there is simply no way around the brain’s threshold: 100 joules of energy, a typical "dose," whether brief pulse, square wave, sine wave, AC or DC, unilateral or bilateral, with or without oxygen equals the energy it takes to light up a 100 watt bulb for one second or drop a 73 pound weight one foot. And it’s the energy that does the damage.

Big lie 4: ECT is a "Godsend" (Fink again). In March of this year, Dr. Sackeim published a study in JAMA showing a "relapse rate" of 84% within six months of stopping ECT. It is no coincidence that improvement ceases just as the concussive effects are finally waning. Sackeim’s solution?  More ECT. Call it "maintenance" or call it "continuation," just don’t stop. (Journal of the American Medical Association. 2001, p. 1299-1307).

Big lie 5: No one knows how ECT works. On the contrary, everyone knows how ECT works. It works by erasing memory and terrifying people.

CONCLUSION

ECT isn’t back - it never went away. It’s more common than appendectomy.

What has happened is that it’s advocates have grown more arrogant and the number of patients forced to undergo ECT against their will is increasing.


This was brought to public attention by Paul Henri Thomas fighting for his life and his mind at Pilgrim State Hospital on Long Island. Over the past two years he has been subjected to 60 shocks and a judge just ordered up 40 more. The newspapers state the Mr. Thomas was born in Haiti, emigrated from oppression and was granted American citizenship.

To be held down, drugged and forcibly administered convulsive dose after convulsive dose of electroshock to the head: can anyone think of a greater assault on a human being’s rights - short of death - in the whole world? And it’s happening here in the land of the free. That’s not acceptable.

We have had 60 years of poignant testimony from eloquent victims of electroshock. Ernest Hemingway complained it ruined his memory and put him out of business. He killed himself within weeks of concluding a second course of ECT.

George Orwell ends 1984 with his protagonist being forced to love Big Brother on an electroshock table.

I urge you to declare a moratorium on electroconvulsive therapy until it can be proven safe by evidence, not proclamation.

I urge you to declare a moratorium on electroconvulsive therapy until patients can be guaranteed free and informed choice.