Reflecting Back on a Campaign to Stop Forced, Outpatient Electroshock

Photo of Ray Sanford

Ray Sanford was receiving weekly court-ordered, outpatient involuntary electroshocks, even though he was living peacefully in his group home out in the community. In October 2008, Ray called the MindFreedom office, and they started his international campaign that reached thousands, and won!

One of the most amazing activist campaigns I have been involved in during my 40 years of protest for human rights in the mental health system, was the effort to stop the involuntary electroshock of Ray Sandford of Minnesota.

Incredibly, back in 2008, he was getting forced shock every Wednesday morning on an outpatient basis. That is right, every week in his group home out in the community, he was picked up and brought to a local hospital for electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) through his brain, against his will, with a court order. 

Ray reached MindFreedom in the Fall of 2008, and an international human rights campaign began for him.

Below, you will see an article by psychiatric survivor activist Loretta Wilson looking back on this action six years ago, which involved thousands of people speaking out together to help and support Ray. It took longer than I thought, but Ray won!

Loretta often talks on the telephone with Ray, and reports on his current needs. Today, as an oppressed person who lives in a group home, Ray should have a better life. Six years ago, his psychiatrist, guardian, lawyer, group home, and many other authorities worked together for his forced electroshock. It is to Ray’s credit that somehow he phoned us at the MindFreedom office and kicked off this historic movement victory.

Back then, Ray’s psychiatrist said that he had to have forced electroshock or he would not survive. Six years later we can now reliably say that this psychiatrist was wrong!

During his forced electroshock, I remember how a bunch of us flew in to Minnesota and reached a lot of people there about Ray. Thanks, Loretta, for keeping in touch with Ray and remembering this great victory.

Some activists dismiss electroshock as an issue for campaigns, because the vast majority of psychiatric treatment is of course with drugs. But as long as even one person is subject to forced electroshock, especially with involuntary outpatient commitment, we are all at risk. In an often-divided movement, opposing forced electroshock unites almost everybody, along with most people on the left and the right in the general public.

At this time, Congressperson Tim Murphy (R-PA) is pushing for his bill for far more involuntary outpatient procedures in the USA, and an attorney has confirmed with me that Rep. Murphy’s bill does not exclude forced electroshock in the community of people living peacefully at home. When the public discovers that his bill would allow more involuntary electroshock of peaceful, law-abiding citizens in their own homes, there will be general outrage. Talk about out-of-control big government over-reach!

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