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The Hidden Tragedy of the CIA’s Experiments on Children

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The Hidden Tragedy of the CIA’s Experiments on Children

By H.P. Albarelli Jr. and Dr. Jeffrey S. Kaye
August 11, 2010

Bobby is seven years old, but this is not the  first time he has been subjected to electroshock. It’s his third time.  In all, over the next year, Bobby will experience eight electroshock  sessions. Placed on the examining table, he is held down by two male  attendants while the physician places a solution on his temples. Bobby  struggles with the two men holding him down, but his efforts are  useless. He cries out and tries to pull away. One of the attendants  tries to force a thick wedge of rubber into his mouth. He turns his head  sharply away and cries out, “Let me go, please. I don’t want to be  here. Please, let me go.” Bobby’s physician looks irritated and she  tells him, “Come on now, Bobby, try to act like a big boy and be still  and relax.” Bobby turns his head away from the woman and opens his mouth  for the wedge that will prevent him from biting through his tongue. He  begins to cry silently, his small shoulders shaking and he stiffens his  body against what he knows is coming.


Mary is only five years old. She sits on a small,  straight-backed chair, moving her legs back and forth, humming the same  four notes over and over and over. Her head, framed in a tangled mass  of golden curls, moves up and down with each note. For the first three  years of her life, Mary was thought to be a mostly normal child. Then,  after she began behaving oddly, she had been handed off to a foster  family. Her father and mother didn’t want her any longer. She had become  too strange for her father, whose alcoholism clouded any awareness of  his young daughter. Mary’s mother had never wanted her anyway and was  happy to have her placed in another home. When the LSD Mary has been  given begins to have its effects, she stops moving her head and legs and  sits staring at the wall. She doesn’t move at all. After about ten  minutes, she looks at the nearby physician observing her, and says, “God  isn’t coming back today. He’s too busy. He won’t be back here for  weeks.”

From early 1940 to 1953, Dr. Lauretta Bender, a  highly respected child neuropsychiatrist practicing at Bellevue Hospital  in New York City, experimented extensively with electroshock therapy on  children who had been diagnosed with “autistic schizophrenia.” In all,  it has been reported that Bender administered electroconvulsive therapy  to at least 100 children ranging in age from three years old to 12  years, with some reports indicating the total may be twice that number.  One source reports that, inclusive of Bender’s work, electroconvulsive  treatment was used on more than 500 children at Bellevue Hospital from  1942 to 1956, and then at Creedmoor State Hospital Children’s Service  from 1956 to 1969. Bender was a confident and dogmatic woman, who  bristled at criticism, oftentimes refused to acknowledge reality even  when it stood starkly before her.

Despite publicly claiming good results with  electroshock treatment, privately Bender said she was seriously  disappointed in the aftereffects and results shown by the subject  children. Indeed, the condition of some of the children appeared to have  only worsened. One six-year-old boy, after being shocked several times,  went from being a shy, withdrawn child to acting increasingly  aggressive and violent. Another child, a seven-year-old girl, following  five electroshock sessions had become nearly catatonic.

Years later, another of Bender’s young patients who  became overly aggressive after about 20 treatments, now grown, was  convicted in court as a “multiple murderer.” Others, in adulthood,  reportedly were in and of trouble and prison for a battery of petty and  violent crimes. A 1954 scientific study of about 50 of Bender’s young  electroshock patients, conducted by two psychologists, found that nearly  all were worse off after the “therapy” and that some had become  suicidal after treatment. One of the children studied in 1954 was the  son of well-known writer Jacqueline Susann, author of the bestselling  novel “Valley of the Dolls.” Susann’s son, Guy, was diagnosed with  autism shortly after birth and, when he was three years old, Dr. Bender  convinced Susann and her husband that Guy could be successfully treated  with electroshock therapy. Guy returned home from Bender’s care a nearly  lifeless child. Susann later told people that Bender had “destroyed”  her son. Guy has been confined to institutions since his treatment.

To their credit, some of Dr. Bender’s colleagues  considered her use of electroshock on children “scandalous,” but few  colleagues spoke out against her, a situation still today common among  those in the medical profession. Said Dr. Leon Eisenberg, a widely  respected physician and true pioneer in the study of autistic children,  “[Lauretta Bender] claimed that some of these children recovered  [because of her use of shock treatment]. I once wrote a paper in which I  referred to several studies by [Dr. E. R.] Clardy. He was at Rockwin  State Hospital – the back up to Bellevue – and he described the arrival  of these children. He considered them psychotic and perhaps worse off  then before the treatment.” (This writer could find no case where any of  Bender’s colleagues spoke out against her decidedly racist viewpoints.  Bender made it quite clear that she felt that African-Americans were  best characterized by their “capacity for laziness” and “ability to  dance,” both features, Bender claimed, of the “specific brain impulses”  of African-Americans.)

About the same time Dr. Bender was conducting her  electroshock experiments, she was also widely experimenting on autistic  and schizophrenic children with what she termed other “treatment  endeavors.” These included use of a wide array of psycho-pharmaceutical  agents, several provided to her by the Sandoz Chemical Co. in Basel,  Switzerland, as well as Metrazol, sub-shock insulin therapy,  amphetamines and anticonvulsants. Metrazol was a trade name for  pentylenetetrazol, a drug used as a circulatory and respiratory  stimulant. High doses cause convulsions, as discovered in 1934 by the  Hungarian-American neurologist and psychiatrist Ladislas J. Meduna.

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Written by dawneworswick

July 15, 2011 at 7:37 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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