Citizens Commission on Human Rights

Australian National Office

Electroshock is Torture but is Legal for All Ages

Electroshock must be banned in NSW

Most people think that electroshock treatment—the application of hundreds of volts of electricity sent through the brain—is banned, but that is not the case. Not only can it be given to NSW children, elderly and pregnant women but it can be given up to four times in one session! It can also be given against a person’s wishes, despite a 2013 report by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment that defined procedures such as electroshock without the consent of the patient as a form of torture.1

In 2021, the World Health Organization stated that forced electroshock is one of the coercive psychiatric practices which needs to be eliminated.2

Download the NSW Fact Sheet on ECT by clicking here.
Download and sign the NSW Petition to ban ECT here.

Electroshock (ECT): Induces a grand mal seizure (convulsion) that can cause memory loss—sometimes permanent— and other serious adverse effects, including brain damage. In other words ECT inflicts harm. Yet the NSW Mental Health Act allows this barbarity, despite provision for a $5,500 criminal fine or six month imprisonment or both for ill-treating or wounding a patient. Arguably, this happens every time ECT is administered. Meanwhile, the NSW Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act has a $44,000 fine or one year imprisonment or both if a person commits an act of cruelty on an animal.3

So unwanted is ECT that one Australian woman forced to undergo electroshock said she has had security guards wheel her down to the treatment room holding her down so she didn’t escape. “I felt like I was being wheeled down to the gas chamber really,” she said. She would even eat from stashed food to avoid the general anaesthetic and when staff found her food, she resorted to eating grass to avoid the electroshock.4

History of Electroshock: Electroshock was developed in 1938 out of a Rome slaughterhouse, where pigs were electroshocked to make it easier to slit their throats in order to kill them. A psychiatrist, Ugo Cerletti, had been experimenting with electric shock on dogs where half of the animals died from cardiac arrest. After seeing the pigs being shocked, he decided to use this on people.5

In Australia in the early 1940s, one of Australia’s first ECT machines was constructed by Birch, the Superintendent of Mental Institutions for South Australia. He first tested the ECT machine on rabbits and then used it on patients in August 1941 at Parkside Mental Hospital in Adelaide.6

Adverse effects from ECT also include: cardiovascular complications; including irregular heartbeat; heart attack; stroke; cognition and memory impairment [sometimes permanent]; dental or oral trauma and physical trauma; manic symptoms; prolonged seizures; worsening of psychiatric symptoms, cardiac arrest and death.7

Any claim that ECT does not cause brain damage ignores basic electrical science as when electricity is sent through the brain, it is converted into heat, increasing the temperature. Cells can suffer dysfunction, temporary injury, permanent damage or even cell death, according to Dr. Ken Castleman, Ph.D., biomedical engineer who has provided legal testimony in ECT device litigation.

A second effect results from the pulsing nature of the voltage applied. “This process of alternately pulling and tugging on the cell membrane creates a jackhammer effect that can tear holes in cell walls. This process is called ‘electroporation,’ the creation of pores (holes) in the cell wall by electrical means, leading to the alteration or destruction of cell membranes,” wrote Castleman.8

  • A 2017 published review of more than 90 ECT studies since 2009, showed they remain “methodologically flawed” and “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. The review also found that there is still no evidence that ECT is more effective than placebo for depression or suicide prevention.9
  • Australian grandfather Gerard Helliar, was administered over 200 electroshocks. In 2018, Victorian coroner Mr. White said there was no evidence that the involuntary ECT Mr. Helliar endured could have provided him with any relief, and ECT instead imposed further pain, discomfort, stress and a sense of hopelessness. Mr. Helliar’s life support was turned off after he attempted suicide in a hospital’s acute inpatient mental health unit. He had refused ECT and told his family and doctors that he hated the treatment and that it affected his memory.10

Number of Electroshocks Given in NSW: In 2020/21 NSW psychiatrists shocked and tortured the brains of vulnerable children and adults a staggering 8,180 times.11 In 2018 there were 156 electroshocks given to teens aged 15-19 years old. But the figure could be much higher. NSW’s Policy Directive for ECT instructs that electroshock can be given up to four times during the same session. In contrast Medicare in the US refuses coverage of “multiple ECT” because studies have demonstrated there is an increased risk of side effects with multiple seizures.12

ECT is not a Cure: There is a high failure (relapse) rate within six months of receiving ECT, requiring more electroshock that creates more damage. Called “maintenance ECT,” antidepressants and/or other psychotropic drugs continue to be administered—the very drugs said to have failed, “requiring” ECT.13

Electroshock Bans in Australia: In 2005, The World Health Organisation stated, “There are no indications for the use of ECT on minors, and hence this should be prohibited through legislation.” 14 W.A. bans electroshock on children under the age of 14 and A.C.T ban its use for under 12s.15 Electroshock must be banned for all ages including children, pregnant women and the elderly.

Electroshock Machine: When the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) approved the current ECT devices for use in Australia in 2004 and 2015, no medical studies proving safety and efficacy were required, provided or relied upon to make this decision. Yet, on October 19, 2018, following a lawsuit it settled, Somatics LLC, the manufacturer of the Thymatron ECT device, which is used in NSW, issued a warning of “permanent brain damage” in its new risk disclosures.16

Conflicts of Interest: The NSW Mental Health Act states that psychiatrists administering ECT to voluntary patients—but not to involuntary ones—must disclose financial relationships with the psychiatric facility (which does nothing to prevent imminent harm to the patient). Quite apart from the fact that they shouldn’t be administering electroshock at all, there’s no requirement to disclose any ties to manufacturers of ECT devices or to research agencies they may be profiting from. Psychiatrist Prof. Colleen Loo works at the Black Dog Institute in NSW, performs ECT, and is the Medical Director of ECT at Wesley Hospital in Kogarah. She also helped write the 2019 Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrist’s ECT Guideline. As recently as 2018, Prof. Loo received lecture fees from MECTA, the U.S. manufacturer of another ECT device—also used in NSW.17

Does Psychiatry Know how Electroshock Works?

Psychiatrists admit they still doesn’t know how ECT “works.”As Victoria‘s former Deputy Chief Psychiatrist Professor Kuruvilla George, wrote: “How does ECT work? This is the million dollar question and the first thing to state is that no one is certain.” 18 Imagine a heart surgeon claiming he doesn’t know how the heart works but has dozens of theories—and no scientific fact—about why a coronary bypass operation should be performed. He would be sued for malpractice!


Write, phone, visit or email the Premier, Leader of the Opposition, Minister and Opposition Minister for Health and your local Member of Parliament: Express your concerns about electroshock and ask them to amend the NSW Mental Health Act to ban electroshock for all ages with criminal fines and prison terms in violation of the ban. Contact details for all Members of Parliament can be found on this link:

Share this Fact Sheet with others: It is also available here and at the top of this web page. Contact CCHR for free bulk copies to distribute.

Download and sign a NSW parliamentary petition to ban ECT: NSW parliament does not have electronic petitions, so please download, sign and mail to CCHR the petition to ban ECT here. Scans and photocopies of petitions are also not accepted by NSW parliament.

Report side effects to Therapeutic Goods Administration: Anyone can report side effects related to medical device adverse events and psychiatric drugs. This can be done by logging onto:

Report psychiatric abuse: If you or a family member has been harmed by electroshock, please contact CCHR. All information kept in confidence.

The NSW Mental Health Act can be found at:


  1. “Electroconvulsive Therapy: ECT Minimum Standard of Practice in NSW,” Policy Directive, PD2011_003, 18 January 2011, p.32.; 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.
  2. “Guidance on Community Mental Health Services: Promoting Person-Centered and Rights-Based Approaches,” World Health Organization, 10 June 2021, pages 4,6,7,8. (to download report).
  3. One Penalty Unit is $110 as of 29 March 2022. Crimes (Sentencing Procedure) Act 1999, s 17.
    400 Penalty Points is fine for cruelty to an animal so $44,000, Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1979 No 200, Definitions (1) (3), s 5. ; NSW Mental Health Act, S. 69.
  4. Sarah Farnsworth, “Hundreds of patients forced to have ECT in Victoria without legal representation,” ABC News, 21 Nov.2016.
  5. Renato M.E. Sabbatini, PhD, “The History of Shock Therapy in Psychiatry,” Brain and Mind Magazine, August/ September 1997.
  6. Ian Freckelton, Beth Wilson, “Electroconvulsive Therapy: Law, History and Practice”, Journal of Law and Medicine, Volume 8 May 2001, p. 394.
  7. “Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) Devices for Class II Draft Guidance for Industry, Clinicians and Food and Drug Administration Staff,” US Food and Drug Administration, 29 December 2015 pages 13, 14. ; “Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) Services: Monitoring and Auditing – MHDA, Guideline, NSW Government, Health Northern Sydney Local Health District, GE2013_022, 22 June 2016, S.4 (2.3).
  8. Ken Castleman, Ph.D., Testimony presented to the Maryland Senate Finance Committee Hearing on the SB 302: Mental Health – Electroconvulsive Therapy for Minors – Prohibition, 20 Feb. 2019.
  9. John Read and Chelsea Arnold, “Is ElectroconvulsiveTherapy for Depression More Effective Than Placebo? A Systematic Review of Studies Since 2009,” Ethical Human Psychology and Psychiatry, Volume 19, Number 1, 2017. 319984428_Is_Electroconvulsive_Therapy_for_Depression_More_Effective_Than_Placebo_A_Systematic_Review_of _Studies_Since_2009
  10. Aisha Dow, “Grandfather forced to undergo ECT before ’preventable death,’” The Age, 19 April 2018.
  11. 8,180 treatments funded by Medicare. Statistics generated on Medicare Australia website using MBS item codes: 14224 for electroconvulsive therapy, Click on “Item By Patient Demographic Reports.” GIPA Request, TAB C GIPA 19-60, Email: to obtain statistics or contact CCHR.
  12. “Electroconvulsive Therapy: ECT Minimum Standard of Practice in NSW,” Policy Directive, PD2011_003, 18 January 2011, p.32.
  13. GIPA Request, File: 19/1980, Northern Sydney Local Health District (NSLHD), 24 July 2019, S. 3 (6.1). Phone NSLHD for a copy or contact CCHR.
  14. WHO Resource Book on Mental Health, Human Rights and Legislation, World Health Organisation, 2005, p.64.–2.pdf
  15. Western Australia Mental Health Act 2014, S 194, p. 145; Australian Capital Territory Mental Health Act 2015, s147, p. 177.
  16. “User Manual Thymatron ® System IV,” UM-TS4, Rev 21, Somatics LLC, 2019.
  17.  Ian M Anderson, Andrew Balmire, Colleen Loo et al, “Randomised controlled trial of ketamine augmentations of electroconvulsive therapy to improve neuropsychological ad clinical outcomes in depression (Ketamine-ECT study),” Efficacy and Mechanism Evaluation, National Institute for Health Research, March 2017. ; Alan Weiss, Slaum Hussain, Colleen Loo et al, “Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists professional practice guidelines for the administration of electroconvulsive therapy,” Supplementary Appendix 1, ANZJP, 10 April 2019. ;NSW Mental Health Act 2007, S. 91 (g),
  18. Dr. Kuruvilla George, “Effective ECT,” Australian Doctor, 6 November 2014.