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When members of the American Psychiatric Association (APA) arrived in New York for their annual meeting recently, they faced hundreds of human rights activists marching against the use of electroshock treatment (ECT)—up to 460 volts of electricity sent through the brain—especially on children, some younger than five years old. While Tennessee law partially prohibits the use of electroshock on a child younger than 18 years of age, under specified circumstances, the brain-damaging procedure can be administered to a child labeled with "mania" or "severe depression" when all other treatments have been exhausted.

Psychiatric watchdog, the Citizens Commission on Human Rights (CCHR) marched against the APA to highlight that Tennessee needs to ban all use of ECT. Supporters marched from Time Square to the Javits Center, where the APA was meeting, with several marchers dressed as Grim Reapers, the age-old symbol of death, to make the point that American kids are at risk when electroshocked or drugged. The Tennessee Code 33-8-302 allows children to be subjected to ECT if their life is at risk, including the potential suicide.

However, CCHR points out that there are no clinical trials proving ECT is life-saving. On the contrary, experts such as psychologist John Read, professor of clinical psychology at the University of East London confirmed from a comprehensive review of research on ECT that there is "no evidence that ECT is more effective than placebo for depression reduction or suicide prevention." He and a colleague concluded, "Given the well-documented high risk of persistent memory dysfunction, the cost-benefit analysis for ECT remains so poor that its use cannot be scientifically, or ethically, justified."

Electroshock, or electroconvulsive treatment, sends vast quantities of electricity into the brain to induce a grand mal seizure. Documented adverse effects include short- and long-term memory loss, cognitive problems, unwanted personality changes, manic symptoms, prolonged seizures, heart problems and even death. There is nothing new about this treatment or its effects, the protesters state. And since 2005, the World Health Organization's Resource Book on Mental Health, Human Rights and Legislation has informed governments that there are "no indications for the use of ECT on minors, and hence this should be prohibited through legislation."

The protest was prompted by the APA requesting the FDA to permit more ECT on kids that psychiatrists label as "treatment resistant." The APA's request is particularly serious, says CCHR, because kids they are calling "treatment resistant" are those who experience no improvement from drugs the FDA has already said should not be used on children. These drugs also have a long list of side effects, some of them very alarming, such as increased depression and suicidal thoughts. Protesters say this could open the door for millions of children who have no positive outcome from these drugs or experience their side effects to be reclassified as "resistant." They could then be forced to submit to electroshock. As young children have no rights to consent to treatment, any electroshock is forcibly given and violates recommendations from Juan E. Mendez, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, who said that forced electroshock could be tantamount to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. He called for an "absolute ban on all forced and non-consensual medical interventions against persons with disabilities," including "electroshock.

"No one should be subject to such torture," says CCHR Nashville board member, Brian Fesler, "We are here defending our nation's most vulnerable citizens, and helping to give them a voice. Tennessee must ban the use of all electroshock treatment as it is torture."

CCHR is also demanding that states be required to document and provide records of how many children are electroshocked each year. State Medicaid records, obtained by CCHR through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, reveal 16 states where electroshock is administered to children, including those younger than one year old.


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