File on 4 (BBC Radio 4, 19 July 2016).
Dozens of people who were child patients at a psychiatric hospital in the 1960s and ’70s claim they were experimented on with a so-called truth serum. It has left them with disturbing memories and troubling questions.
Troubled children in institutional care were sometimes referred for specialist treatment at Aston Hall Hospital. The Medical Superintendant was a Dr Kenneth Miller, who, it appears, practised a form of narcoanalysis. Based on the belief that traumatic memories are often repressed, treatment by drugs such as sodium amytal (the ‘truth drug’ in question) could, it was believed, provide quicker results than slower working psychotherapeutic techniques.
The theory behind it was defined in the programme by Dr Norman Poole, of St George’s Hospital in London: “Once you’d found this traumatic event and the patient was able to express this, then almost like a psychic abscess, you could prick it and the trauma, the grief, the emotions that were connected with it would come out and then the symptoms would resolve.”
In Dr Milner’s case, it would appear that once he had administered the drug, he would ask questions of the patient as to whether they had been sexually abused. He asked frequently whether patients had been abused by their fathers. Some of these now ex-patients said they felt as though they were being coerced into agreeing, even when they didn’t believe it.
Marianne recalls a session with the doctor where she was stripped, made to wear a stiff white gown and told she would be asked some questions. Then he injected her with a drug that heavily sedated her.
“I can remember equating it to being drunk and I was going: ‘I feel like I’ve had about a bottle of gin, I feel like I’ve had about two bottles of gin’. And I can remember going: ‘Happy Christmas, doctor’.”
Her account is similar to those of other former patients at the time, who remember being locked in a small treatment room with a mattress on the floor. Some say their hands were tied with bandages before they were injected. Their medical records show the typical dose of sodium amytal was 60mg.
Having recognised the illegitimate nature of the treatment in later years, many of those who were treated at Aston Hall now believe they had false memories implanted into them by the use of sodium amytal and accompanying psychotherapy.
To read more please visit the BBC website at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-36803067
Or listen to the programme again on BBC iPlayer radio at http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b07kpydn