Electroshock and Minors: A Fifty-Year Review

By Steve Baldwin; Melissa Oxlad | Go to book overview
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Chapter 12
What Is the Scientific Evidence?


Electric shock has been used with infants, children and teenagers since the mid 1940s ( Bender, 1947; Heuyer et al., 1947). To date, no scientific evidence has ever been generated to justify its use with minors. There are no outcome data from randomized controlled trials, no clinical controlled trials and no evidence from single-case studies. In sum, there is no scientific evidence to support the use of shock with minors. The continued use of shock with young people is based on the perceived clinical freedoms of individual psychiatrists, who continue to recommend its use. Their objection to the abandonment of electroshock use with minors is based on their economic concerns about "restraint of trade" rather than any clinical beliefs about effectiveness.

In the 1960s, there was substantial concern among civil liberties and human rights organizations about the use of mind-altering drugs and shock to control human behavior. The pioneering work of rights activists and civil libertarians ( Cameron, 1994; Frank, 1990) has established linkages between U.S. government "intelligence" agencies and the psychiatric profession. Inarguably the CIA was involved in funding the so-called mind control experiments during the 1960s and 1970s. These included the notorious "M-Kultra" experiments that attempted to demonstrate the utility of shock treatment in the control of unwanted or undesirable human behavior. These experiments confirmed that in adults, memory for recent and past events could be destroyed using electric shocks to the human brain.

The collaboration between some U.S. psychiatrists and the Central Intelligence Agency ( CIA) is now documented as a matter of public record. Moreover the professional province of this work was also expanded overseas. In the United Kingdom even well-known psychologists (such as Hans Eysenck) were alleged to have collaborated with the US government, and received funding


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Electroshock and Minors: A Fifty-Year Review


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