Ellen G. White and Her Critics


Modern Medical View of Epilepsy

1. The formerly held idea that an injury to the head explains many cases of epilepsy, and also many other cases of abnormal mental states and behavior, is heavily discounted today. It would be shoddy diagnostic procedure to explain someone’s queer ways simply by the fact that when he was a child he fell out of an apple tree, or out of his crib, and landed on his head. It is estimated that probably between 5 and 10 per cent of those who suffer head injuries become epileptics. * Some authorities say not more than 5 per cent. On the whole question of head injuries in relation to mental diseases one medical work observes: EGWC 62.8

“The opinion popularly entertained that injuries to the head are a frequent cause of mental disease is distinctly an error.... Not over one-half of one per cent of admissions to hospitals for mental diseases are to be considered as traumatic [injury] psychoses in the correct sense of the term.”—ARTHUR PERCY NOYES and EDITH M. HAYDON, A Textbook of Psychiatry, p. 126. EGWC 63.1

2. If the epileptic attacks have been frequent over at least five years of time, and no adequate medical care has been given, the chances of their cessation are poor. EGWC 63.2

3. Some authorities affirm that an epileptic may live a long life with little or no mental deterioration. But if the epileptic seizures begin in the teens, are frequent over a number of years, and the patient receives no adequate medical aid, most authorities hold that the outlook is very forbidding—the patient almost certainly will suffer increasing mental deterioration. EGWC 63.3

4. There is some difference of opinion among authorities as to the temperament of an epileptic, but most doctors would agree with this description, given in a current medical work: EGWC 63.4

“Between the attacks the patient’s general physical and mental condition may be unimpaired. Very often one observes both intellectual and character changes which become more and more apparent as the disease progresses. The epileptic is frequently an unsocial, selfish, egocentric, suspicious, sensitive, pedantic, overscrupulous, hypochondriacal person. He is irritable and sometimes violent, but emotionally poor none the less. (It is possible that much of his unsociability and many of his reactions are the result of the general social attitude toward him. He is generally excluded from gainful occupations and not infrequently shunned.) The epileptic is hypersensitive to alcohol. Occasionally one observes paranoidal and other delusional trends and sometimes hallucinatory ideas and confusional states. He may become over-ceremonious and excessively religious as the disease progresses. Memory defects, ethical depravity, other personality deterioration, and finally dementia may be observed.”—ISRAEL S. WECHSLER, A Textbook of Clinical Neurology, p. 625. EGWC 63.5

5. The epileptic attack, or “fit,” is generally one of two kinds: (1) a momentary loss of consciousness, though the patient makes no outcry, does not fall, and afterward has no memory of the incident. This, in medical language, is petit mal. (2) A violent attack, with foaming at the mouth, preceded by an outcry and sudden collapse, and followed by complete absence of memory of anything during the time of the attack. This, in medical language, is grand mal. Obviously Mrs. White’s critic means grand mal when he declares that Mrs. White had an “epileptic fit,” for he emphasizes the fact that the “fit” is preceded by an outcry. Patently, petit mal could not provide the remotest analogy to a “vision.” Even a layman would have little difficulty in diagnosing correctly a true grand mal attack. * EGWC 64.1