Shocking Waves at the Museum: The Bini-Cerletti Electroshock Apparatus

Alessandro Aruta

Abstract


April 1938. The patient with the shaved head is passively lying on a bed on the first floor of a room-laboratory of the Clinic of Nervous and Mental Diseases of the Royal University of Rome. Several electric shocks are administered under strict supervision of the medical team of Ugo Cerletti (1867-1963). After the treatment, his psychic conditions get somewhat better.
The electroshock machine, whose prototype is preserved at the Museum of the History of Medicine of the Sapienza University of Rome, together with manuals, patents and scientific and historical documentation, was invented and patented by Lucio Bini (1908 -1964), a pupil of Cerletti.
The use of electroshock replaces both the insulin therapy and the first attempts at a chemical treatment of psychic disorders. Until the 1950s no alternative treatments were available. Electroconvulsive therapies divided the public opinion and the scientific community. This controversial history is reflected in the eyes of the visitors to the Museum. When looking at the Bini - Cerletti machine they seem to ask: how did the patient feel? Was it fair to resort to such an practice so invasive, and lacking a definite scientific experimentation?


Key words: Electroshock apparatus ECT Exhibit Scientific Museology
Ugo Cerletti


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