Was William Sargant an evil CIA doctor? (part 2)

In my last post I commented on the fact that British psychiatrist William Sargant seems to have acquired a reputation as a CIA psychiatrist although there is – to date – no evidence to support the claim that he worked for the American intelligence services. But these stories keep appearing. For example, on the website of U Claim, a claims management company belonging to Manchester solicitors JMW, Sargant is described as having carried out treatments with electro convulsive therapy and deep sleep treatment “on behalf of secret services”. U Claim go on to elaborate on what they say are Sargant’s views on the memory loss caused by the treatment:

Sargant saw this complete amnesia as a desirable state, actually stating that he wished patients to lose all sense of their “space-time image”. Although he admitted that such an identity void did cause anxiety in the “second stage”, Sargant remarked that in the “third stage” a very positive state could be reached whereby the patient loses “constriction of the range of recollections which one ordinarily brings in to modify and enrich one’s statements. Hence, what the patient talks about are only his sensations of the moment and he talks about them almost exclusively in highly concrete terms. His remarks are entirely uninfluenced by previous recollections – nor are they governed in any way by his forward anticipations. He lives in the immediate present. All schizophrenic symptoms have disappeared . There is complete amnesia for all events in his life”.

That paragraph comes almost word for word from John Marks’ 1979 book The Search for the Manchurian Candidate: CIA and Mind Control. One of the words that has been changed however is an important one: Cameron, the McGill University psychiatrist about whom John Marks was writing and whose experiments with ECT and DST had indeed been partially funded by the CIA, has been changed to Sargant. Here is the original passage from John Mark’s book: 

In the second phase, she lost her “space-time image,” but still wanted to remember. In fact, not being able to answer questions like, “Where am I?” and “How did I get here?” caused her considerable anxiety. In the third stage, all that anxiety disappeared. Cameron described the state as “an extremely interesting constriction of the range of recollections which one ordinarily brings in to modify and enrich one’s statements. Hence, what the patient talks about are only his sensations of the moment, and he talks about them almost exclusively in highly concrete terms. His remarks are entirely uninfluenced by previous recollections—nor are they governed in any way by his forward anticipations. He lives in the immediate present. All schizophrenic symptoms have disappeared. There is complete amnesia for all events in his life.”

and the rest of the chapter can be read here

Cameron’s work at McGill University, Montreal, Canada, received funding from the CIA but there was nothing secret about it. John Marks took Cameron’s words not from some report to the CIA tracked down by means of Freedom of Information Act requests but from an article in the April 1962 edition of Comprehensive Psychiatry (official journal of the American Psychopathological Association). Written by D. Ewen Cameron, J.G. Lorenz and K.A. Handcock, it was entitled “The depatterning treatment of schizophrenia”, and had been delivered by Cameron as a Maudsley Bequest Lecture in London, February 1962.

Sargant certainly experimented on people with ECT and DST without their consent, and left them with memory loss. A few died. As U Claim says, if that happened today, it would surely lead to medical negligence claims. But those claims wouldn’t get very far if the plaintiffs’ solicitors produced by way of evidence a document where Sargant’s name had simply been pasted into something that was written about someone else.

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This entry was posted in 1960s, 1970s, ECT in the UK, Legal cases. Bookmark the permalink.

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