Tag Archives: electroshock

Patient Wins Landmark $635,177 Verdict for Electroshock (ECT) Memory Loss

A South Carolina woman has become the first survivor of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT, shock treatment) to win a jury verdict and a large money judgment in compensation for extensive permanent amnesia and cognitive disability caused by the procedure.

Peggy S. Salters, 60, sued Palmetto Baptist Medical Center in Columbia, as well as the three doctors responsible for her care. As the result of an intensive course of outpatient ECT in 2000, she lost all memories of the past 30 years of her life, including all memories of her husband of three decades, now deceased, and the births of her three children. Ms. Salters held a Masters of Science in nursing and had a long career as a psychiatric nurse, but lost her knowledge of nursing skills and was unable to return to work after ECT.

The jury awarded her $635,177 in compensation for her inability to work. The malpractice verdict was against the referring doctor, Eric Lewkowiez. The jury could not return a verdict against the other two doctors because of one holdout vote for acquittal. The hospital settled its liability for an undisclosed sum early in the trial.

Former patients have reported devastating, permanent amnesia and cognitive impairment since ECT was first invented in 1938, but that has not hindered the treatment’s popularity with doctors. The first lawsuit for ECT amnesia, Marilyn Rice v. John Nardini, was brought exactly thirty years ago, and dozens of suits have followed. While there have been a few settlements, including one for half a million dollars, no former patient has won a case until now.

Psychiatrist Peter Breggin, who served as Ms. Salters’ expert witness, was also the expert in Rice v. Nardini, and has appeared for plaintiffs many times over the past three decades without success. Psychologist Mary E. Shea presented extensive neuropsychological testing proving to the jury’s satisfaction that Ms. Salters suffers dementia due to ECT brain damage.

Expert for the defense was Charles Kellner of New Jersey, formerly of the Medical University of South Carolina. He testified that giving Ms. Salters’ 13 shocks in 19 days, instead of 26 days as is usual, was not a violation of the American Psychiatric Association guidelines. However, his assertions that Ms. Salters’ severe suicidality justified the controversial treatment could not be substantiated by the medical records. 82-year-old Max Fink of New York, widely regarded as the “grandfather of shock” and the author of many books and articles on ECT, was scheduled to testify for the defense, but in the end only watched the trial from the courtroom. The defense did not call him as a witness due to incriminating statements made under oath at his deposition.

For the past three decades, defense attorneys have won case after case by the same strategy: browbeating the jury with the plaintiff’s psychiatric history, playing upon the prevailing cultural notions that mental patients are incapable of telling the truth and doctors don’t lie; even claiming that mental illness causes amnesia and brain damage. Even neurological testing showing brain damage has been brushed aside. Peggy Salters’ case is the first in which a former ECT patient has been believed. She says she sees it as a victory for all ECT survivors.

Case information: Peggy S. Salters vs. Palmetto Health Alliance, Inc., d/b/a Palmetto Baptist Medical Center; Robt. Schnackenberg, M.D., Individually, Eric Lewkowiez, M.D., Individually, Columbia Psychiatric Associates, P.A.; and Kenneth Huggins, M.D., Individually; Case 03CP4004797, Richland County, South Carolina

Source: “Landmark Decision: Jury Awards $635,177 Damages for Memory Loss from Electroshock,” press release of Committee for Truth in Psychiatry, July 8, 2005.

Alberta government seeking other sexual assault victims of psychiatrist Aubrey Levin

The Alberta government is quietly trying to find out if there may be more alleged victims of a Calgary psychiatrist already charged with sexually assaulting some patients.

CBC News has learned that Alberta Justice has recently sent out letters to defence lawyers, asking for help from their clients.

Dr. Aubrey Levin, who was used as a forensic psychiatrist by Alberta courts for years, was charged earlier this year with sexually assaulting 21 male patients.

One of the letters arrived at the office of Calgary lawyer Adriano Iovinelli.

“This is the first time in 16 years that we’ve ever seen [such a letter],” said Iovinelli. “This is unprecedented.”

‘Significant position of power’

The letter was sent to lawyers whose clients had been ordered by the court to see Levin “on many occasions.” It states: “If you have any concerns about Dr. Levin in his professional capacity, you may also wish to contact the Calgary Police Service.”

Alberta Justice said that so far, 59 such letters had been sent out.

“Our primary concern is to see that justice is done,” said David Dear, spokesman for the ministry. “Was there any chance that in these cases, from what we can find in the file, that there was anything inappropriate … that may have improperly influenced the outcome?”

Levin, 72, was employed by the courts on numerous occasions where those convicted were ordered to see him before a judge passed sentence.

“It’s a court-ordered report,” said Iovinelli. “So imagine being an accused and you are looking at a further period of incarceration, a significant period of incarceration, and the opinion of this particular doctor may determine that effect.

“It’s a very significant position of power.”

Twenty-one men have alleged they were sexually assaulted by Levin during court-ordered psychiatric assessments or counselling sessions, either in his office at the Peter Lougheed hospital in Calgary or in examination rooms.

Linked to apartheid electroshock therapy

Levin is not unfamiliar with controversy.

While a colonel in the South African military under apartheid in the 1970s, he was linked to the use of electroshock aversion therapy, now widely discredited, that was supposed to “cure” gays and lesbians of their homosexuality.

Levin’s activities were brought up during South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, but he was never prosecuted for them.

The Alberta College of Physicians and Surgeons, which licensed him in the 1990s, said Levin remains under suspension until his criminal charges are dealt with.

Calgary police won’t say if more people have come forward as a result of the letters sent by Alberta Justice.

Nor will the government say how many more people will be contacted, only that Levin was employed by the courts for nearly 13 years.

A preliminary hearing is scheduled for Levin in June 2011.

Source: “Albert seeks patients of courtroom psychiatrist,” CBC News, December 22, 2010.

Psychiatrist charged with 20+ counts of sexual assault out on bail, will face jury; license suspended

A former prominent Calgary forensic psychiatrist has chosen to face a judge and jury on charges of sexually assaulting 21 former male patients.

Defence lawyer Alain Hepner made the election today, then booked a month-long preliminary hearing in provincial court to start on June 1.

Police initially charged Aubrey Levin with one count of sexual assault on March 23 in relation to the initial complaint by a former male patient.

Then 20 other men came forward with similar allegations and charges were laid in late July, following a four-month investigation sparked by the initial complainant.

All of the complainants are from the Calgary area – and some are currently in jail, police said at the time.

It is alleged the sex assaults took place during court-ordered psychiatric assessments or counselling sessions inside Levin’s office at the Peter Lougheed Hospital or examination rooms.

Levin’s main role in the court system was providing psychiatric assessments of convicted offenders awaiting sentence.

The allegations against Levin prompted Alberta Justice to review, on behalf of the court, 38 known cases he handled for any indications of impropriety.

The 17 patients whose cases were still in progress when Levin was charged were either reassessed or transferred to another doctor.

Levin is no longer practising, as his licence has been suspended by the Alberta College of Physicians and Surgeons.

He was first licensed as a psychiatrist in South Africa in 1969, has been out on bail since shortly after his arrest.

One of his bail conditions also forbids him from practising medicine, and he is forbidden to make any contact with the complainants. Levin was also ordered to surrender his passport and can’t leave Canada without permission.

A preliminary hearing is held to determine if there is sufficient evidence to go to trial.

Source: Daryl Slade, “Calgary psychiatrist to face judge, jury,” Calgary Herald, 21 September 2010.