UN Human Rights Council Condemns Forced Psychiatric Practices

CCHR urges need to ban coercive treatment and electroshock

UN Human Rights Council Condemns Forced Psychiatric Practices

​The United Nations Human Rights Council has condemned forced psychiatric treatment, including electroshock therapy (ECT), and called for a repeal of laws that allow coercive practices in the mental health field. According to the Council’s recent “Mental health and human rights” report, countries “should reframe and recognize these practices as constituting torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment…”[1] The report resulted from a consultation held in Geneva in May, attended by UN Special Rapporteurs, Non-Government Organizations (NGOs), such as Citizens Commission on Human Rights (CCHR), and persons with mental health disabilities. CCHR, a mental health watchdog said it concurs with the Council’s report that coercive treatment should be outlawed.

Furthermore, with this year marking the 80th anniversary of the use of electroconvulsive therapy, also known as electroshock, CCHR says the report is timely and also reinforces the mental health watchdog’s call for ECT to be prohibited. Jan Eastgate, international president of CCHR, said, “ECT was invented in fascist Italy in 1938 using 80 volts of electricity.[2] After the initial electric shock had seared through the first patient’s head, he screamed, ‘Not another one! It’s deadly.’”[3] Today, electroshock (electroconvulsive) treatment uses more than five times the voltage used in the 1940s and during the past 25 years alone, there have been an estimated 7,500 deaths linked to ECT in the U.S. and potentially more than 75,000 worldwide.

There needs to be a U.S. and worldwide ban on the use of ECT so that a humane mental health system can exist.

Jan Eastgate, President CCHR International

The UN report also published that Special Rapporteur Catalina Devandas Aguilar agreed that “involuntary interventions, such as electroconvulsive therapies, psychosurgery, forced sterilization and other invasive, painful and irreversible treatments, continued to be permitted, contrary to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.”

The Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Nils Melzer, also condemned as unlawful forced institutionalization that may amount to torture and ill-treatment. 

Despite such damning findings — views held by experts since ECT’s inception — the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has never required the electroshock device manufacturers to conduct clinical trials proving safety of the devices, nor does the FDA regulate these ECT devices that are equated with torture. “Any person can be given ECT at the whim of psychiatrists that claim it is ‘needed,’ even though they can’t explain how it ‘works,’” Ms. Eastgate said. “Mental health laws throughout the U.S. allow ECT to be given against the patients’ wishes in certain circumstances. Therefore, by internationally recognized standards, non-consenting individuals are being tortured throughout the country.”

CCHR says it’s not the first time the UN committee on torture has defined ECT in terms of torture. On Feb. 1, 2013, Juan E. Méndez, the then Special Rapporteur of the committee called upon states to “impose an absolute ban on all forced and non-consensual medical interventions against persons with disabilities, including the non-consensual administration of psychosurgery, electroshock and mind-altering drugs…”[4] He said that forced psychiatric interventions, when committed against persons with psychosocial disabilities, “satisfies both intent and purpose required under the article 1 of the Convention against Torture, notwithstanding claims of ‘good intentions’ by medical professionals...”

Instead of ensuring brain-damaging electroshock is abolished, the FDA and American Psychiatric Association (APA) want ECT to be more broadly administered with reduced restrictions.

Wayne Ramsay, J.D., a volunteer attorney for the Law Project for Psychiatric Rights, wrote that ECT “damages the brain sufficiently to impair whatever thinking the ‘patient’ was engaging in.” In Understanding the Brain, a course consisting of 18 hours of recorded lectures by Jeanette Norden, Ph.D., professor of Cell & Developmental Biology at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine and Professor of Neurosciences at Vanderbilt University College of Arts and Sciences, she said: “Each time a seizure occurs, neurons die.”[5] 

Yet the APA recommends removing “brain damage” from the ECT consent form[6] and say the procedure is “safer” today.

However, Mr. Ramsay stated: “ECT advocates deceive the public, patients, legislators, and judges by claiming ECT as administered today is different and less harmful than in the past.” An “autopsy study, EEGs, and observation of those who have received ECT indicate those given ECT with anesthesia, a muscle paralyzing drug, and forced breathing of air or oxygen experience the same brain damage, memory loss, and intellectual impairment as those given ECT without these modifications,” he warned.

Yet U.S. children, including those aged 0 to 5 are given electroshock every year, constituting torture, according to CCHR. In Rhode Island, for example, electroshock is blatantly recommended for children and teenagers as part of its “Youth Suicide Prevention Project.” 

The World Health Organization’s Resource Book on Mental Health, Human Rights and Legislation 2005, advises: “There are no indications for the use of ECT on minors, and hence this should be prohibited through legislation.”[7] 

A 2017 study by John Read Ph.D., School of Psychology, University of East London, and Chelsea Arnold from the School of Psychology, Swinburne University of Technology, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, reviewed 91 studies on ECT since 2009 and 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.”[8]

In its remarks, the UN Human Rights Council report stated: “During the interactive dialogue, representatives of the Citizens Commission on Human Rights” was “one of many speakers that reiterated the call to shift from the biomedical model and deprivation of liberty in mental health care, to increased focus on the root causes” and “to promote a recovery approach.” “There needs to be a U.S. and worldwide ban on the use of ECT so that a humane mental health system can exist,” Ms. Eastgate said.

Click here to read and sign CCHR’s Petition to Ban Electroshock (ECT).

CCHR is a non-profit mental health watchdog group dedicated to eliminating abuses committed under the guise of mental health. CCHR works to ensure patient and consumer protections are enacted and upheld as there is rampant abuse in the field of mental health. In this role, CCHR has helped to enact more than 180 laws protecting individuals from abusive or coercive mental health practices since it was formed over 49 years ago, including a ban on electroshock use on children in four U.S. states and in Western Australia.

Contact: Amber Rauscher, media@cchr.org or (323) 467-4242.


[1] “Mental Health and Human Rights,” United Nations Human Rights Council, 39th session; 10–28 Sept. 2018, https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Issues/MentalHealth/A_HRC_39_36_EN.pdf.

[2] “75 Years of Electroconvulsive Therapy,” ECT Statistics, 20 May 2013, https://ectstatistics.wordpress.com/2013/05/20/75-years-of-electroconvulsive-therapy/.

[3] John Breeding, Ph.D., "Electroshock: On How and Why It Lingers on Long After Insulin Coma Shock and Lobotomy Are Gone," Ethical Human Psychology and Psychiatry, Volume 18, Number 1, 2016, http://endofshock.com/EHPPElectroshockLingersOn.pdf?.

[4] A/HRC/22/53, “Report of the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Juan E. Méndez,” United Nations, General Assembly, Human Rights Council, Twenty-second Session, Agenda Item 3, 1 Feb. 2013, p. 21, para 85, http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/HRCouncil/RegularSession/Session22/A.HRC.22.53_English.pdf.

[5] Wayne Ramsay, J.D., “Psychiatry’s Electroconvulsive Therapy: A Crime Against Humanity,” copyrighted 2018,  http://www.wayneramsay.com/ect.htm.

[6] The Practice of Electroconvulsive Therapy: Recommendations for Treatment, Training, and Privileging — A Task Force Report of the American Psychiatric Association 1990. Richard Winer, Max Fink, et al.


[8] John Read, Chelsea Arnold, "Is Electroconvulsive Therapy for Depression More Effective Than Placebo? A Systematic Review of Studies Since 2009," Ethical Human Psychology and Psychiatry, Volume 19, Number 1, 2017, http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/springer/ehpp/2017/00000019/00000001/art00002#.

Source: Citizens Commission on Human Rights International

About Citizens Commission on Human Rights International

As a mental health industry watchdog, CCHR's mission is to inform and mobilize the public against violations of human rights and civil liberties committed under the guise of "mental health." Put Patients Above Profit. Take Action Against Abuse.

Citizens Commission on Human Rights International
6616 W. Sunset Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA

More Press Releases