News Programs Examine Shock Therapy, Xenotransplantation
CBS' "60 Minutes II" reports that although electroconvulsive therapy, also known as shock therapy or ECT, was once considered "the essence of barbarity," more than 100,000 Americans receive the treatment every year. Although some patients claim that shock therapy is the "most effective anti-depressant treatment available," others claim the ECT erased "large chunks" of their lives and should be banned. ECT involves between six to 16 separate shocks; each jolt of electricity triggers a short seizure that alters the brain's chemistry and "lifts depression." Dr. Harold Sackheim, one of the "leading practitioners" of shock therapy in the United States, says that no medication has ever been proven superior to ECT in a clinical trial. Sackheim said, "The medical community recognizes universally that ECT is the most effective anti-depressant we have." However, former depression patient Dianna Loper claims that after receiving ECT, she no longer remembers getting married or giving birth, and that her IQ has been lowered. "Enough electricity went through my brain to light up a 60-watt light bulb," Loper said.
Although "it's hard to determine if electroshock or mental illness is responsible" for memory loss, and studies have shown that "depression itself kills brain cells and lowers IQ," psychiatrist Peter Breggin "has no doubts" that ECT causes "severe brain dysfunction and should be outlawed." Although currently people can still be "forcibly shocked for depression by court order," shock therapy is "more controlled now, more humane, and less painful" today than in the 1950s when patients were often shocked without consent for conditions such as ulcers, psoriasis, and "even for homosexuality" ("60 Minutes II," CBS, 4/3).
PBS' "Frontline" last night aired the first segment of a two-part documentary called "Organ Farm" which examines the "highly secret, multibillion dollar industry of xenotransplantation," or cross-species organ transplants. "Frontline" reports that pigs are being genetically altered with human DNA to "create a living production line of these partially humanized pig organs to use as spare parts for humans." Testing of fetal pig cell treatments is already underway for conditions such as Parkinson's disease, stroke, epilepsy, Huntington's disease, and spinal cord injuries. The program included interviews with xenotransplant doctors, researchers, and medical ethicists, who discussed not only "the great promise of this breakthrough science," but also the risk that transplant recipients could contract a "unique virus" contained in pig cells and organs known as Porcine Endogenous Retrovirus and spread it among the general population. Hugh Auchincloss, chair of the FDA's subcommittee on xenotransplantation said, "The ultimate concern is that you create AIDS II by doing xenotransplantation. And nobody is quite capable of saying that's impossible" ("Organ Farm," "Frontline," PBS, 4/3).