Cape Town -- The Citizens' Commission on Human Rights in South Africa on Friday reiterated a call to abolish the use of electro-convulsive therapy (ECT) in state and private psychiatric institutions, with new legislation needed to achieve this.
"ECT is given at more than 20 institutions countywide and is a barbaric practice we need to abolish," said commission head Jean Bethel.
Bethel said the commission was conducting research into cases of abuse, both physical and sexual, at psychiatric institutions.
Highlighting the hundreds of cases the commission was analysing, Bethel said electro-shock treatment usually consists of 10 to 12 shocks over a period of weeks.
"They put electrodes to the brain and discharge up to 420 volts of electricity and literally fry the brains of patients," Bethel charged.
But her contentions were strongly denied by the South African Society of Psychiatrists as "ludicrous."
"ECT is a legitimate and helpful form of treatment which is not banned in a single country," said society spokesperson Dr Shaquir Salduker on Friday.
He said there was a misconception among the public that the treatment involved brain-frying and convulsing patients with their hair on end, as popularised in the film "One flew over the cuckoo's nest".
"This is completely not the case - in fact our treatments are done on patients under anaesthetic, with the machine putting out electrical charges in millivolts, so for example a 30-year-old will receive 30 millivolts. The entire process takes about five minutes."
Salduker said that the success rate of the treatment was in excess of 85% for the appropriate treatment, and had a small failure rate and a zero fatality rate.
The Citizens' Commission was founded by the Church of Scientology in 1969, and according to church spokesperson Ryan Hogarth, the church as a religious philosophy "did not subscribe to psychiatry and according to our creed of the church the study of minds and the healing of mental illness should not be alienated from religion or condoned by non-religious fields."
Hogarth said mental healing needed an independent watchdog - such as the commission - in order to eradicate the human rights abuses people might experience in mental institutions and bring the field "under the law."