...what really happened to Chelmsford patients ?


For many Chelmsford victims the experience was shattering. Some were so damaged by the treatment that their experiences died with them in Chelmsford or were locked up in a brain that no longer functioned at a level that would allow them to complain in a competent manner, or that would allow them to live for very long.

Nothing new in this really. The history of ECT contains much such comment. Today being cheap ECT is becoming popular again for cash strapped NSW authorities who seem to be putting a legal structure in place so that ECT and new drugs can be used as 'a final solution' to the mental illness problem, the social misfit problem, and the social/political dissident problem. After sufficient treatments the cumulative brain damage inflicted renders the 'problem person' passive and able to live out a shortened life on a pension.

But sometimes victims were able to speak up even when the third element in the Chelmsford menu, was used...

Jim Lawler, a Sydney sheet-metal worker saw a GP about a pain behind his eyes. He was referred to a Chelmsford doctor, a psychiatrist who referred him to a friend, a psychologist, because the GP's examination could find nothing wrong.

The psychologist determined from personality tests that Lawler needed help as he had "superior intellectual capacities, inferior capacity to grasp abstract concepts, below-average control of detail, below-average strength in aggression, and was depressed in mood." Lawler's psychiatrist recommended psychosurgery, which was carried out at Prince Henry Hospital.

On retesting Lawler, after the operation, the psychologist announced a resounding success, finding Lawler's IQ was higher, anxiety levels down, and improvements in abstract thinking, memory, attention span and fluency. This same psychologist tested dozens of other Chelmsford patients, and his results were used to assess suitability for both psychosurgery and ECT.

Lawler was interviewed on 12 February 1985 by Tracy Bowden on the Willesee TV program. The producers were able to use less than a minute of a 30 minute interview on air because Lawler could not concentrate and had difficulty in responding to questions. The broadcast segment was as follows:

LAWLER: What I can remember, after this surgery I was supposed to have an IQ of 111- that would make me pretty well up with the brainiest persons in the world. Instead, my IQ was lowered.

INTERVIEWER: Your psychiatrist referred you to a psychologist. What did he do?

LAWLER: Well, he psychoanalysed me, with Zulliger tests. They're like someone's gone mad with a paint brush, and thrown paint onto cardboard. And through that they determine that a person has to have brain surgery, as in my case.

INTERVIEWER: The tests you did, did they take very long?

LAWLER: Maybe half an hour.

INTERVIEWER: Did he talk to you about other aspects of your life, or he just did the tests?

LAWLER: No, he just did the tests.

INTERVIEWER: What happened after the surgery?

LAWLER: When I came home from the hospital my son said to his mother, Mum, what's happened with this operation? He said, something went wrong with this. Dad is not the father that I used to know. And that's from a kid who is deaf.

INTERVIEWER: Is it possible to explain how you feel now?

LAWLER: Resentful, and bitter. Because what's been done to me shouldn't be done to a dog.

Since the psychosurgery Lawler has suffered epilepsy, brain function deficits, and personality change. He has been unable to hold down his old job, or any other, is sometimes violent towards his wife, and says his sex life has been destroyed. The psychologists' professional body, the Australian Psychological Society, rejected complaints against Jim Lawler's psychologist, who is now a registered psychologist and was able to obtain registration when a Psychologists Registration Board was set up in 1989 and has had no problem each year in obtaining re-registration.