iOS app Android app More

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors
DJ Jaffe


FDA Considers Caving to Scientology and Making Mental Illness Treatment Illegal

Posted: 11/05/09 09:21 AM ET

While Congress is considering health care legislation that would provide more coverage for individuals with severe mental illness, as far-fetched as it sounds, the FDA is considering making it more difficult to treat depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and psychosis.

At the request of Scientology (and a few others), they are considering requiring expensive new government testing for a treatment that has been successfully used for years: electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). If the ‘testing’ isn’t done, the treatment will be taken off the market. And that is the goal of Scientologists.  As the LA Times pointed out “(The) Church of Scientology… opposes virtually all psychiatric treatments.”

In 1976, the FDA grandfathered continuing use of ECT, and many other devices, pending FDA evaluation of safety and effectiveness. It is now 30 years later and the treatment has been safely and effectively used ever since then.

In spite of 40 years of success, the FDA—prodded by Scientology-- recently decided to hold hearings on the safety and efficacy of this treatment. Depending on the outcome, the manufacturers of the device might have to go through onerous duplicative testing that has already been done in the real world.

The manufacturers say the tests would be too expensive and therefore they would have to get out the business. Doctors could be jailed for offering their patients treatment.

The American Psychiatric Association’s most recent report on ECT concludes

ECT is an effective antidepressant in all subtypes of major depressive disorder

Dr. Demitris Popolis wrote in Overcoming Depression

There's been a resurgence of interest in ECT because it has evolved into a safe option, one that works
ECT has a higher success rate or severe depression than any other form of treatment…
It is particularly useful for people who … cannot take antidepressants due to problems of health or lack of response and pregnant women who suffer from depression or mania. A patient who is very intent on suicide, and who would not wait three weeks for an antidepressant to work, would be a good candidate for ECT because it works more rapidly.

Kitty Dukakis in her book, “Shock” credited ECT with saving her life.

Rolland Kohloff, principal timpanist for the New York Philharmonic Orchestra saw how ECT helped his son with schizophrenia. When Mr. Kohloff developed his own severe depression, he decided to try it himself. As he said in the New York Times, “What I think it did was to act like a Roto-Rooter on the depression."

 Dick Cavett told People Magazine,

“In my case, ECT was miraculous. My wife was dubious, but when she came into my room afterward, I sat up and said, 'Look who's back among the living.' It was like a magic wand."

In spite its obvious efficacy, ECT (and all treatments for the mentally ill) has opponents. Rael Jean Isaacs Madness in the Streets is the best book on the anti-treatment, anti-ECT, often Scientologist crowd.

While there is some opposition to ECT from non-Scientologists, Scientologists believe “The concept that a brain-based, chemical imbalance underlies mental illness is false.” They believe mental illness doesn’t exist and treatment for it is torture.  It is their right to believe whatever they want. But my choice of treatment should not be dictated by it. 

In response to a previous effort by Scientologists to ban ECT, Laurie Flynn, former Executive Director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness wrote a 1995 letter to Bernie Arons, Director of the Center For Mental Health Services:

As you know, there are widespread efforts led by Scientologists and other anti-psychiatric groups underway throughout the country to ban ECT as an available treatment and to criminalize the prescription of ECT by physicians treating individuals with severe depressive illnesses. These groups ignore the extensive, uncontroverted evidence in the scientific literature that ECT is both safe and effective as a treatment for severe depression. Consequently, it is critically important that any statement coming from CMHS must focus on medical aspects of ECT and avoid the “politics” of ECT.

The FDA should avoid the politics too.  They should immediately reclassify electroconvulsive devices as “Class II” devices, rather than keeping them in Class III which requires the manufacturers to go through expensive and unnecessary laboratory testing to prove what patients and doctors know: ECT works.

You can submit your comments to the FDA in favor of reclassifying ECT to Class II by clicking the ‘submit’ button at the top right hand side of the page of the FDA public docket.


Follow DJ Jaffe on Twitter: