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Ministry halts controversial electrotherapy program for Internet addicts
Updated: 2009-07-14 14:05

The Ministry of Health has ordered a halt to a controversial electroshock treatment intended to help treat Internet addiction in teenagers, the Beijing News reported on Tuesday.

The Ministry said the therapy, which was administered by a clinic in Linyi, Shandong province, has not been proven to be safe.

Kong Lingzhong, editor of a domestic Internet addiction-themed portal told the Beijing News that there was still fierce debate over whether electroshock therapy was appropriate for young internet addicts.

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“We have no clue whether this freaky treatment has side-effects,” Kong said.

Yang Shuyun from the clinic in Shandong told the media yesterday afternoon that they stopped giving the treatment as soon as they received the Health Ministry’s notification.

Bowing to the pressure though, she also emphasized that the program led by Dr. Yang Yongxin was not exclusively about electrotherapy, and said it had important medical and psychological elements too.

The China Daily reported last month that more than 3,000 young people were tricked or forced into in to the four-month long course. To enroll their children, parents or guardians had to sign a contract acknowledging that they would be given electric shocks of up to 200 milliamperes. The treatment cost 6,000 yuan ($878) per month. Patients were considered “cured” or “reborn” once they admitted to their addiction.

According to the Guangdong-based Information Times, shocks were given if patients broke any of the center’s 86 rules, which included prohibitions on eating chocolate, locking the bathroom door, taking pills before a meal, and sitting in Dr. Yang's chair without permission.

Details of the treatment first became public when former patients wrote about their experiences online. In addition to the electric shocks, they claimed that they were not allowed to talk about anything other than overcoming their Internet addiction, ordered to kneel in front of their parents to show obedience, and forced to confess to “wrongdoing.”

Internet addiction is a growing problem in China, which now has nearly 300 million Internet users, including many adolescents who spend several hours each day playing computer games.