Electroshock in New York State -- Require Reporting, Protect Human Rights in Psychiatry sign now

We, the undersigned, Petition the Legislature to OVERRIDE Governor George Pataki's VETO of Senate Bill Number 2691, entitled: An Act to amend the mental hygiene law in relation to the oversight and regulation of electroconvulsive therapy. This veto derails legislation enacted to collect, consolidate and make publicly available basic information on the use of electroshock treatment in New York State. S. 2691 would only have required the Office of Mental Health, the state agency responsible for oversight and licensing of mental health facilities, to collect and report information; it included no regulation of ECT use.

Electroshock, also called ECT or electroconvulsive therapy, is one of the most controversial treatments in psychiatry. In his veto message the governor claims: "There is no clinical or scientific basis upon which to target ECT for special reporting." Perhaps the governor is unaware that the Food and Drug Administration classifies ECT devices as Class III pre-market approval/experimental devices that show an unreasonable risk of illness or injury. Another compelling reason for heightened scrutiny of electroshock use is that a majority of people who have undergone electroshock report experiencing memory loss afterwards. Many have reported that their losses were permanent.

It was the increasing involuntary administration of electroshock, at first only suspected by advocates, that brought this issue into the legislative spotlight. In 2001, a limited investigation undertaken at the request of legislators confirmed that in just one year there had been an alarming 73\% increase in applications for involuntary administration of electroshock.

The electroshock reporting bill passed by large majorities in both houses. It was the work of legislators who accepted their responsibility to represent the interests of the public, and who heeded New York State citizens with the greatest interest in the matter: those who have directly experienced the mental health system. At public hearings people with psychiatric diagnoses, including many who had undergone electroshock, spoke eloquently of their experiences with institutional psychiatry. Strong support for this legislation was voiced by mental health and disability rights advocates. Among those who testified to the necessity of monitoring the use of electroshock were neurologists, who as a profession are especially experienced in studying the brain.

Despite strong public support for S. 2691, Governor Pataki based his decision on advice from OMH and input from New York's psychiatric and hospital associations. He ignored the public's demand for accountability, and has instead used his power of veto to cater to the interests of organizations representing psychiatrists, HMO's and hospitals-- all of which stand to profit from the practice of electroshock.

The only citizen opposition to S. 2691 came from the NY chapter of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill. This was consistent with NAMI's history of lobbying against the right to self determination in mental health treatment, and its ties to the psychiatric establishment. NAMI has long promoted increasing the power and influence of psychiatrists -- but not their accountability.

The unmonitored practice of electroconvulsive shock treatment, and the increasing numbers of people forcibly subjected to it,should be of concern to all New Yorkers. It is irresponsible government and highly questionable public health policy for the state to increasingly utilize electroshock, yet refuse to monitor and publicly disclose the circumstances under which it is administered, whether it is consented to or forced, how it is paid for, and how many injuries or deaths result. The public and policy makers should be made privy to this essential information -- and would be, if S. 2691 were to become law.

The Governor should not have the last word. We call on the members of the New York State Assembly and Senate to vote tooverride his arbitrary veto.



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Tasha HahnBy:
SustainabilityIn:
Petition target:
the New York State Legislature

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