An Israeli study on electro-convulsive therapy (ECT) for severely depressed or psychotic patients has apparently disproved the claim that the similar process of stunning animals before slaughter is humane and minimizes their suffering.
Prof. Rael Strous, a psychiatrist at Tel Aviv University’s Sackler Faculty of Medicine and the Be’er Ya’acov Mental Health Center, has just published an article on the subject in the journal Meat Science together with Bar-Ilan University researcher Dr. Ari Zivotofsky.
The researchers reached the conclusion that electric stunning of animals, often advocated as kinder than kosher slaughter, “is in fact cruel and barbaric,” as if one administered ECT without first giving patients sedation and/or general anesthesia.
The team studied ECT given to depressed patients – in which a strong electric shock is given under sedation and/or anesthesia to those who are not helped by conventional anti-depressive medication – as a comparison for the stunning of animals. This was unique research in which medical procedures used on humans were investigated to learn about the suffering of animals.
“Thus, introducing stunning, as we know from the experience in psychiatry on humans, defeats the objective of more humane slaughter,” they wrote. Animals that are inadequately stunned because of improperly positioned electrodes or other problems could suffer pain for a minute or more before losing consciousness, they said.
Strous said all leading Orthodox rabbinical arbiters around the world – except for a single rabbi in New Zealand – insist electrical stunning of animals before ritual slaughter is forbidden. In shechita, Jewish ritual slaughter of kosher animals, an extremely sharp knife is used to quickly sever a major blood vessel in the animal’s neck. This, the rabbis have long said, minimizes distress and pain to the animal as it loses a large amount of blood and consciousness very rapidly.
“Several European countries are introducing compulsory stunning prior to animal slaughter,” Strous told The Jerusalem Post. “This would in essence ban shechita for the first time since the Nazis in Europe.
The “stunning bill” was already passed in the lower house in the Netherlands, Strous said, “and only recently delayed in the upper house due to much lobbying – including, I am led to believe, with the help of academic input, such as our article.”
The article includes a description of ECT, in which electrodes are placed on the patient’s temples, after which a rapid burst of electric current of 70 to 170 volts is meted out. The mechanism by which the electricity “rearranges the brain cells” and provides relief to psychiatric disease is not fully understood but it is often very effective, at least for a while. It can even prevent psychiatric symptoms.
Without putting the patient “under,” ECT is considered a form of “medical torture.”
Patients who have been subjected to it without general anesthesia have reportedly suffered much more anxiety and trauma than they had before.
The authors show that “reversible electrical stunning,” very commonly employed in commercial abattoirs abroad, is very similar to ECT given without general anesthetic. Stunned animals behave as if they had an epileptic seizure, their bodies rigid with muscle contraction.
But it is reversible stunning, and they do not all lose consciousness.
The amount of voltages varies according to the type of animal, techniques used and the individual creature’s size and behavior. The animals going to slaughter can thus regain consciousness and then face the knife that will kill them.
Stunning a chicken, they write, is more problematic than in cows, sheep or other animals.
A common stunning method for poultry is to give them an “electrical water bath through the birds to the metal shackle.”
Every component must be adjusted perfectly to ensure a proper stun. There has to be a solid electrical ground, water height must perfectly match the bird size, and there must be some form of isolation at the beginning to pressure pre-stun electrical shocks.
In practice, the authors write, these conditions are often not met. The stunning process can also cause blood blemishes on the meat, broken bones and painful muscle contractions in the birds, which can still sense what is happening.