Article: "Minnesota mental health patient Ray Sandford
forced into electro-shock therapy"
- 20 May 2009
- BELOW is a *superb* article published in today's "City
Pages" about the
- ongoing, outpatient forced electroshock of Ray Sandford.
- Journalist Matt Snyders expertly walks you through what it
is like for
- Ray to be woken up in his assisted living home and
escorted to another
- forced electroshock. The article quotes experts on both
sides of the
- controversy, and covers the growing international Ray
- by MindFreedom International.
- "City Pages" is the main weekly newspaper distributed
- Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota.
- Please forward the below article to all interested on and
- For more info on Ray campaign see:
- Link to below original City Pages article with photos:
- or use this link:
- 20 May 2009
- CITY PAGES - MInnesota
- By Matt Snyders
- "Minnesota mental health patient Ray Sandford forced into
- shock therapy"
- Ray Sandford doesn't want to do this.
- On a sunny yet cool mid-April morning, the pear-shaped
- emerges from the front door of his ranch-style group home
- Heights. Wearing a black windbreaker and gray sweatpants,
he grips the
- handle of his four-pronged cane and plods begrudgingly
toward the street.
- One of Sandford's caretakers, a large woman wearing all
- perfunctorily behind to see him to his destination.
- He's told them repeatedly he doesn't want to do this.
- He ambles forward. There's nothing he can do now. No sense
- it. Not now.
- A 20-passenger Anoka transit bus idles along the curb
- arrival. A short, swarthy driver assists Sandford. The bus
- pulls away and embarks on the 12-mile ride to Mercy
Medical Clinic in
- Coon Rapids.
- Upon arrival, Sandford walks through the automatic sliding
- assumes his position in a wheelchair. He's whisked to a
room on the fifth
- floor where nurses poke an IV through his fleshy forearm.
He's given a
- muscle relaxant and general anesthesia. Within 30 seconds,
- dissolves. He's out cold.
- Assistants lay him out on his back. A doctor places
- either side of Sandford's cranium. Cords extend from the
- connecting to what appears to be an antiquated stereo set.
A couple of
- dials protrude from the machine's display. A physician
- unassuming switch.
- A three-second burst of 140 volts blasts through
- While he's totally unconscious, Sandford's torso jerks up
and down. His
- arms and legs writhe only slightly, steadied by muscle
- through his veins. Sandford's toes curl downward, as if
his feet were
- trying ball up into fists. He's experiencing a grand mal
- Two minutes later, it's over. Sandford will feel a bit
woozy the rest of
- the day, but there'll be no lasting pain. His short-term
memory is the
- only thing that will suffer.
- But he'll still remember quite clearly that he never
wanted to do this.
- "They can literally tie me up, put me in ambulance, and
bring me in to
- get shock treatments," he says. "I don't fight it, because
- nothing I can do by that time. You want to know how I
feel? I don't like
- it at all."
- INTRODUCED TO AMERICA in 1939, electroconvulsive therapy
is one of the
- most controversial medical procedures still in practice.
Not much is
- known about how or why it works. Even so, by the end of
World War II,
- every reputable hospital in the world performed the
- "It was a very useful treatment because there was no
treatment like it
- before," says ECT proponent Dr. Max Fink, widely regarded
- grandfather of American ECT and a professor of psychiatry
at Stony Brook
- University in New York. "At the time, every state was
troubled by the
- fact that they were building bigger and bigger hospitals
for the mentally
- ill. Once ECT caught on, the number of hospital beds for
- was reduced sharply."
- After the advent of psychotropic drugs in the 1950s,
- appeared to be going the way of the lobotomy. Prescription
- suddenly viewed as a more reliable and humane alternative.
- But by the early '80s, something unexpected happened:
- other psychotropics turned out not to be the panacea
everyone hoped they
- would be.
- "Many doctors had patients who had been given the best
care in the
- major centers of the world with pills, but they still had
- were very, very sick," says Dr. Fink. "So they turned to
doctors who were
- using ECT devices, and one by one, hospital by hospital,
- reintroduced. Most of the reintroduction occurred at the
end of the 1980s
- and beginning of the 1990s. By now, there aren't many
- hospitals that don't have ECT."
- Today, between 100,000 and 200,000 Americans undergo the
- each year. But not everyone is convinced that's a good
- "When you induce a grand mal convulsion by sending
100-plus volts of
- electricity in the brain, you're going to create damage,"
says Dr. John
- Breeding, an Austin, Texas-based psychologist and
- abolitionist. "This is most easily seen with memory loss
- patients experience. You're talking major voltage directly
- temporal lobes of the brain. And the data is very clear
- close to a 100 percent relapse rate, which means patients
have to keep
- coming back and suffer further brain damage. This is
referred to as
- 'maintenance ECT,' rather than as a failed treatment,
which is what it
- really is."
- Even more controversial is the practice of forced,
- electroconvulsive treatment. Neither the American
- Association nor activist groups have estimates on how many
- undergo forced ECT annually, but there were 41 cases in
- last year.
- Ray Sandford was one of them. But unlike the others, he's
- quietly, opting instead to take his fight to the public
arena. A small
- army of mental-health activists has now taken up a
- campaign on his behalf, painting him as something of a
- McMurphy from One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.
- "This case is particularly egregious," says Dr. Breeding.
- Sandford was really the first I heard of somebody being
shocked on an
- outpatient basis."
- MARILYN SANDFORD had particularly high hopes for her
eldest son. When her
- three boys, along with their neighborhood friends, would
play in a vast
- sandpit on the far side of their two-acre estate in Eagan,
it was clear,
- even from a distance, that Raymond was in charge.
- "He was exceptionally bright and had a real gift for
- persuasion," says Marilyn. "Those boys were a pack, and he
- leader of the pack. We assumed he'd make an excellent
- Ray's father, a contractor by trade, built the family's
- home himself, outfitting the stately split-level with a
- and spiral staircase. With no mortgage to pay and the
- boom providing lucrative work for her husband, Marilyn was
able to quit
- her job as a polio nurse and devote her time to raising
- As Ray entered adolescence, he grew enamored of real
- memorizing local lot prices and market fluctuations. His
goal, he told
- his parents matter-of-factly, was to be a millionaire by
the age of 21.
- Shortly after Ray's 17th birthday, it became clear that
- wrong with him. Ray, who had always gotten exceptional
grades at Sibley
- High in Mendota Heights, suddenly dropped out his senior
year. He emptied
- his college fund‚Äîabout $3,000 his parents had saved
up‚Äîand bought his
- own lot in a trailer park in Lilydale, eight miles north.
- At first, Marilyn chalked up her son's bizarre behavior to
- "It's very hard to come to terms with the fact that your
eldest and very
- promising child is mentally ill," she says. "That's not
- ever ready for."
- But as Ray's recklessness continued to escalate, Marilyn
was forced to
- confront reality. Out to run some errands, Marilyn glanced
- rearview mirror to see Ray following close behind in his
- close. He whizzed past her, then abruptly stopped. He
peeled out around
- her, nearly smashing into oncoming traffic, then stopped
- Ray's thoughts and speech, meanwhile, grew more and more
- Ray was 19, Marilyn's father, a country doctor, visited
the family. After
- supper, he took Marilyn aside and told her what she
already knew: "You
- need to get that boy checked out."
- She brought her son to Hastings Mental Hospital. After
observing Ray and
- hearing Marilyn's account of his behavior, the doctors
gave Marilyn a
- grim prognosis: "Your son suffers from severe manic
- recommend he be institutionalized."
- Ray's new home would be Hastings Mental Hospital, an
- "Now his brother is a doctor, his sister is a doctor,
another brother is
- a successful engineer, and then another brother owns and
- property," Marilyn says ruefully. "They're all doing very
well and here
- he is, the leader‚Äîand each hospitalization leaves him a
- well-off financially. So now he really has nothing."
- In 2005, Marilyn, then 76 and eying her own mortality,
- Lutheran Social Services, the state's largest nonprofit
- health care, and asked them to act as legal guardian and
- Ray. She would no longer have any legal say in his future.
- it was a difficult but necessary decision.
- "I have high blood pressure; I could die tomorrow," she
- ridiculous to assume I could be responsible for someone
else's life at
- this point. I knew we needed to find him a conservator."
- By 2006, Ray Sandford had transferred to Community
- Hospital in Willmar. Shortly after the move, his manic
- Sandford grew frustrated with the confines, which only
- psychosis. According to a report later submitted to a
- Sandford was "grossly psychotic, yelling violently and
smearing feces all
- over, urinating wherever and whenever he felt like it."
- The meds weren't working. The time had come for an
- In January 2008, staff at Willmar approached Dr. Kevin
- psychiatrist who specializes in schizophrenia. Four months
- Ray, the doctor petitioned to impose electroconvulsive
therapy on the
- At the May 13 hearing in the basement of St. Paul's
- Ramsey County District Judge Teresa R. Warner heard from
- as well as from two court-appointed medical examiners who
- Ray was "not in a position to weigh the benefits versus
the risks of ECT
- The hearing was quick, lasting barely a half-hour.
- "The Court considered the respondent's family and
community, as well as
- his moral, religious, and social values," ruled Judge
Warner. "Based on
- these considerations, a reasonable person would authorize
- electroconvulsive therapy."
- THE RITUAL always begins the same.
- Just after 6 p.m. Sandford hears a knock at the door. It's
- caretakers. They've come to raid his refrigerator.
- "No more food for the rest of the night, Ray. Doctor's
- After purging the fridge of sandwich meat and the shelves
- they march upstairs and stash the provisions in a
- It's not a cruel trick; if Sandford ever succumbed to a
- hankering for a bologna sandwich, it might very well prove
to be his
- last. That's because, should any food still be sloshing
- stomach during next morning's ECT-induced seizure, there's
a good chance
- he'd vomit and choke to death on the table.
- Which is why he doesn't utter a word of protest as they
- groceries away, or when his stomach starts growling at 10
- "There's nothing fun about it," he says of the fasting,
and leaves it at
- Of greater concern to him is the procedure itself. He
knows he'll be
- unconscious during the ordeal, that it will be painless.
Still, he's a
- bit anxious.
- "You don't know if you're going to wake up," he says, his
- widening as he confronts his own mortality. "It's not very
- it's still possible. When I did the first couple of them,
I was a lot
- more scared than I am now."
- He did those first few willingly‚Äîanything to get out of
- hospital, which he found to be oppressive. It seemed like
a fair trade-
- But on June 10, 2008, he once again found himself in the
- courtroom of Regions Hospital listening to important
strangers explain to
- other important strangers why it's in society's best
interest to blast
- 140 volts of electricity through his cranium at regularly
- intervals. Today's hearing would decide whether the month-
- order should be allowed to expire.
- One of the strangers, Dr. Peter Myers, whom Sandford had
- briefly, testified that Sandford had shown "noted
- beginning ECT, in the sense that Sandford "now has the
ability to remain
- calm." Dr. Myers also commended him for "exhibiting more
- thought patterns." However, continued the doctor, "he
still remains a
- danger to himself and is in need of continued commitment
- with neuroleptic medication and electroconvulsive
- Judge Warner agreed. She gave the go-ahead for three ECTs
a week for up
- to four weeks, followed by one treatment per week for one
- The ruling was based on solid precedent. In 1976, just as
ECT was at the
- nadir of its popularity, a 14-year-old Minnesota boy was
- his and his mother's objections. The mother filed suit and
- the Minnesota Supreme Court. The resulting decision held
- competent patients were immune from being shocked against
- objections. Moreover, the case made clear that even
- were entitled to a court proceeding before being
- electroconvulsive therapy.
- On its face, the Price-Sheppard decision appeared to
- self-determination‚Äîafter all, the requirement for
guardians to get
- court-approval before administering the volts is one that
- But in practice, court-ordered ECT has been on the rise
- ruling, for a number of reasons. The ruling assumed that a
- person is‚Äîby very virtue of being
- attaining the court order is more of a bureaucratic
formality than a
- serious deliberation.
- "I would say the court grants the order for ECT in well
- percent of the cases," says Doug McGuire, of the Hennepin
- Commitment Defense Panel, which represents patients in the
- proceedings. "It's very unusual for the court not to grant
- Mental health courts require a lower standard to the
- ("clear and convincing evidence") than do criminal courts
- reasonable doubt"), but more importantly, the
- invariably a doctor, as in Sandford's case‚Äînaturally
- credibility than a person deemed unfit to care for
- "One of the issues that comes up is how vigorously the
- appointed attorney puts forth their objections to the
ECT," notes Pamela
- Hoopes, the lead attorney for the Minnesota Disability Law
- ON OCTOBER 22, David Oaks was sitting in his office in
- when his phone rang.
- As director of MindFreedom International, a coalition of
- described "mental human rights organizations" advocating
- call "a nonviolent revolution in mental health care," Oaks
- his share of strange calls. But Oaks had never heard a
story like this
- "My name is Ray Sandford," said the man on the phone. "I
live in a
- group home in suburban Minneapolis. I'm getting
- against my will. What do I do?"
- Oaks dialed Lutheran Social Services to confirm the story.
- familiar with Sandford's case verified that Sandford was
- court-ordered electroshock treatments. A copy of the court
- confirmed it.
- "I get calls all the time from people who are frightened,
- being pushed around and bullied by the mental health
- Oaks. "But this guy has made sense the whole time. His was
- extremely human response: 'I don't want it.'"
- Taking up the cause, MindFreedom launched an online
Campaign for Ray,
- with a website detailing Sandford's predicament. Oaks
compiled a list of
- caretakers associated with Sandford‚Äîfrom doctors to
- lawyers‚Äîalong with their contact information,
encouraging visitors to
- call them and demand they put an end to the treatment. In
- MindFreedom sent out mass emails to its network of
activists who, in
- turn, inundated the governor's office with phone calls.
- The tactic seemed to be working. On April 15, Dr. Dean
- aside as Sandford's psychiatrist. Eight days later,
- Services submitted to the Ramsey County probate court a
- resign as Sandford's guardian.
- But on May 12, a knock sounded outside Sandford's door. It
- caretakers. They had come to raid his refrigerator.
- THE NEXT DAY, Sandford emerges from his front door to a
- sight: an idling white bus. He slowly steps forward, his
- cane gripping warm asphalt.
- He doesn't want to do this. He's told them repeatedly he
doesn't want to
- do this.
- He climbs inside the bus and takes a seat. A hiss sounds
as the bus's
- brakes release.
- He arrives at Mercy Medical Clinic and is taken to the
fifth floor. An IV
- is inserted. Sandford is less than two minutes from
undergoing his 43rd
- ECT when a doctor approaches him.
- "Mr. Sandford, it looks like we're going to postpone
- treatment," he says. "Sorry for the inconvenience."
- Unbeknownst to Sandford, his mother had, for the past 48
- dozens of calls to Mercy's ECT Unit. Her words were
- "His doctor has given up on him," she told anyone who
would listen. "I'm
- a retired nurse. And I know for a fact you cannot give ECT
- doctor's order."
- It's unclear whether Sandford will have to go through with
more ECT or
- who his new doctor will be. Marilyn and a friend are in
the process of
- finding a psychiatrist.
- As for Ray Sandford, his appraisal of last week's
surprising turn is
- characteristically nonchalant.
- "I felt a whole lot better after they told me I wouldn't
have to go
- through with it," he says. "But I wish they would have
told me earlier,
- instead of having to go through all the trouble. They knew
I didn't want
- to do this."
- - end -
- * ACTION * ACTION * ACTION *
- *FORWARD* this important article to those interested far
and wide on and
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- IN OTHER NEWS....
- MindFreedom co-sponsored successful protests directly in
front of the
- American Psychiatric Association huge Annual Meeting in
San Francisco on
- 17 May and 18 May 2009. In a guerilla theater "screening
- hundreds of flyers were handed out about Ray to
- For article and photos go to:
- It's logical!
- *IF* It Takes United People Power to Change the Mental
- *THEREFORE*... Let's All Support MindFreedom
- Now, as never before!
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