[Taken from the Box Turtle Bulletin for July 26, http://www.boxturtlebulletin.com/]
The professional literature before 1980 festers with countless torturous descriptions of psychiatry’s barbarous attempts at “curing” homosexuality. Many accounts deal with the application of painful electric shock delivered via electrodes attached to sensitive regions of the body (See, for example, Jan 18, Jan 20, Mar 11, Jun 3, Sep 6, Oct 30, Dec 8). But the imagination for new methods of torture didn’t end there. Dr. Newdigate M. Owensby, who practiced at Atlanta’s famed Medical Arts Building and founded the Brook Haven Manor Sanitarium outside of Atlanta, published a brief paper in the July 1940 edition of the prestigious Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease describing his own unique experiments to cure homosexuality. He worked on “the assumption that homosexuality and lesbianism are symptoms of an under developed schizophrenia,” and this led him to try something new: injecting subjects with Metrazol, to produce an epileptic-type grand mal seizure. Other psychiatrists had been experimenting with Metrazol-induced seizures for schizophrenia since 1934, and their logic went like this: since epilepsy (which was considered a mental illness) and schizophrenia very rarely existed in the same individual, maybe inducing an artificial seizure might rid one of schizophrenia. Owensby extended his theory further, on the theory that Metrazol seizures might “liberate this previous fixation of the libido and the psychosexual energy becomes free once more to flow through regular physiological channels.” Who knows where he got that idea. But to give you an idea of what this seizure was like, here is a brief film clip (unrelated to Owensby’s report) of
an unidentified patient experiencing a Metrazol-induced seizure:
Ownesby provided six case studies of his experiments:
Case I.-A white male of 19 years had been arrested and sentenced to prison because of moral turpitude (homosexuality). He was paroled for treatment and promised a pardon if his perversion was corrected. The family history was not enlightening. Homosexual experiences began during his fourteenth year and continued thereafter. Feminine mannerisms were evident. Metrazol was administered until fifteen shocks were produced. All homosexual desires had disappeared after the ninth shock, but treatment was continued until all feminine mannerisms had been removed. Normal sex relations were established and eighteen months later there had been no return of homosexual tendencies. He was granted a pardon.
Case 2.-A white male aged thirty-four years. Had been a homosexual since his fifteenth year. He was frank enough to admit that the only reason for seeking treatment was fear of exposure and subsequent disgrace. All homosexual desires disappeared after seven grand mal attacks were induced by metrazol. He was married four months later. At the expiration of ten months he stated there had been no recurrence of homosexual desires or practices.
Case 3.-A white male aged forty-four years. Had been a homosexual since early youth. Most of his past life had been spent in penal institutions because of the opportunities to indulge his perversion. He seemed proud of the fact that he was a “man-woman”. Was constantly inebriated when out of prison. Metrazol was administered until ten grand mal attacks had occurred. He appeared to be regenerated after the ninth seizure. His common law wife states that, with the exception of an occasional overindulgence in alcohol, he has been a normal, hard working man for the past six months.
Case 4–A white male aged twenty-five years. Has been a homosexual since his fifteenth year. His mother was a neurotic. A sister had a manic depressive attack. A brother was an alcoholic. The patient was seclusive and spent most of his free time in his room. Would take an occasional trip to another city in order to satiate his homosexual desires. Was reluctant to discuss his perversion. Six grand mal attacks were induced by metrazol. Normal sex relations became established shortly thereafter and at the expiration of three months the patient claimed to be sexually healthy.
Case 5.-A white male aged twenty-six years. Married. Had indulged in active homosexuality since his seventeenth year. Appeared to be an ambulatory schizophrenic. His marriage had been arranged by a doting mother. Had never been self supporting. An obvious personality change followed the sixth induced grand mal attack. Whereas he had formerly been indifferent to his family and friends, he began to show interest and affection for them. He secured a position after returning home and became self supporting. Six months after receiving the metrazol treatment, he reported that he had continued to be free from all homosexual desires.
Case 6.-A white female aged twenty-four years. Name and address given were admittedly fictitious. Said to have been a lesbian since puberty. Promiscuous. Preferred the active role. Inclined to boast of her conquests. Inebriate for past four years. Ten grand mal seizures were induced by metrazol. Became infatuated with an intern after the treatment had been discontinued and frequently complained of nocturnal emissions. Remained institutionalized for six weeks after the last treatment and appeared to be healthy in every way. No subsequent reports.
The report’s weak findings are obvious: no measures of sexual orientation before or after, no long-term follow-up, widespread evidence of involuntary or coerced participation — not to mention a deeply flawed belief in the nature of homosexuality itself. What’s more, it’s easy to imagine that anyone being subjected to this kind of torture would say or do anything to make it stop. In fact, the use of Metrazolinduced seizures was finally halted when it was found to be both ineffective and terrifying to patients.
The seizures could be so severe that some patients actually experienced spinal fractures. It was later discovered that repeated treatments could, in some cases, lead to lasting brain damage. Needless to say, there is no evidence whatsoever that this treatment had any kind of effect in changing anyone’s sexual orientation. Indeed, in June 1949, Dr. George N. Thompson, writing for the same journal, would conclude that Metrazol shock therapy was ineffective in “curing” homosexuality.
But the National Association for the Research and Treatment of Homosexuality (NARTH) didn’t bother to read that memo. When they issued their so-called “Journal” in 2009 with a report which supposedly documents successful efforts to change sexual orientation, they included Owensby’s 1940 paper as a success story. Under the heading of “pharmacological interventions,” they write simply, “Owensby (1940) reported that six patients ceased all homosexual behavior after taking the drug Metrazol (pentetrazol).” They not only neglected to mention what Metrazol was all about — it wasn’t just some pill prescribed to patients — they also forgot to point out that the FDA revoked its approval of the drug in 1982.
[Sources: Newdigate M. Owensby. "Homosexuality and lesbianism treated with Metrazol." Journal of
Nervous and Mental Disease 92, no. 1 (July 1940): 65-66.
George N. Thompson. "Electroshock and other therapeutic considerations in sexual psychopathy."
Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease 109, no. 6 (June 1949): 531-539.
James E. Phelan, Neil Whitehead, Philip M. Sutton. "What the research shows: NARTH's response to
the APA claims on homosexuality." Journal of Human Sexuality 1 (2009). ]