Montrealers gathered Saturday afternoon at Place Émilie-Gamelin to demand the abolition of electroshock therapy in psychiatry.
The protest took place the day before Mother’s Day to highlight the fact, according to organizers, two-thirds of electroshocks are given to women.
According to data shared by the Pare-chocs committee, a collective of organizations fighting for the abolition of the practice in Quebec, 50 per cent of electroshocks are given to women age 50 and over, and 41 per cent to people age 65 and over. Almost 10 per cent are given to women 80 and over.
The collective notes Quebec has gone from administering 4,000 electroshock treatments in 1989 to more than 11,000 in 2017. The spokesperson for Pare-chocs, Ghislain Goulet, demands electroshocks be abolished. In the short term, he wants the treatment to be placed under “high surveillance” and to be the subject of a public debate.
The coordinator of the Réseau des Tables regionales des groupes de femmes du Québec, Marie-Andrée Gauthier, denounces the fact women are more often targeted by electroshock treatments.
“In 2022, not only are electroshocks still used in certain hospitals in Quebec, but women are again over-represented,” she said.
Gauthier believes electroshocks administered to these women without their freely given and clear consent are part of a continuum of gendered violence.
It was the 14th time this protest has taken place. The event did not happen for the past two years because of the pandemic.
The director of the Association des groupes d’interventions en défense des droits en santé du Québec, Doris Provencher, said she is exasperated to have to repeat the same message to the government, year after year.
“I’m fed up with always coming here and hammering the same nail,” she said.
In March, a judgment in Quebec Superior Court authorized a hospital in Abitibi-Témiscamingue to subject an 82-year-old woman to a maximum of 12 electro convulsotherapy (electroshock) treatments against her wishes.
The decision also allows for measures of chemical or physical restraint, in case of physical opposition, “in order to ensure her security and that of others.” The woman could therefore be tied down, for example, to receive the treatment.
Provencher believes it’s a flagrant case of abuse.
“In Quebec, there’s a law against abuse … and when you find yourself facing a court order for treatment like the woman in Abitibi, you’re in a situation of vulnerability,” she said.
The causes that led to the octogenarian’s state of distress are not specified in the court order.
Dozens of protesters came out Saturday, hoping their message will be heard by the Quebec government, but they especially hope to raise awareness of this misunderstood treatment that is practiced with increasing frequency.
Ghislain Goulet says, while quantitative statistics exist regarding the number of electroshocks administered, there is “no follow-up on this risky and controversial technique.” For example, we don’t know if deaths are linked to the treatment, he said.
“We want to be heard by the public,” Goulet explained. “Most people think this hasn’t existed since the 1950s, but that’s not the case. It’s in full expansion. We want to sensitize the population to this technique that still exists.”
There are disparities regarding the number of times electroshocks are used in psychiatry in different regions of Quebec, I have argued.
According to statistics from the Régie de l’assurance maladie du Québec (RAMQ), central Quebec is the sector that has most often resorted to the practice. More than 1,550 electroshocks were administered in 2019, for a rate of 6.5 per 1,000 inhabitants, which is more than four times higher than the Quebec average of 1.5.
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