Seanad debate on forced electric shock treatment

THE forced use of electric shock treatment — Electro Convulsive Therapy (ECT) —on mentally ill people is to be debated in the Seanad this week.

The debate will focus on the Mental Health Act 2001 with campaigners seeking to have a controversial section of the legislation, 59b, removed from the statute book.

They claim that repealing the section would lead to an end to the use of forced electric shock treatment on some patients.

The vote is being pushed by Senator Dan Boyle on behalf of a lobby group who have pushed for the legislation since 2009. The Seanad resumes on Wednesday to deal with a number of outstanding legislative matters.

John McCarthy, a founding member of the group, said the campaign’s intention was to solely stop the use of forced ECT.

“Deleting section 59b in no way interferes with a patient’s right to choose ECT as a form of treatment. We are simply looking to end the use of forced ECT here,” he said. “As it stands, section 59b protects the doctors’ decisions and negates the patients’ rights. We feel this is wrong. Both doctor and patient rights are protected under common law, but section 59b of the Mental Health Act 2001 only protects the doctor.

“Along with Senator Boyle who has been a tireless advocate for us, we have decided to push for this vote on Wednesday as we feel there is support within the membership of the Seanad. It means we have a strong chance to win the vote.”

Hugh Kane, former head of the Mental Health Commission, is also backing the campaign. Mr Kane, who is now a special adviser to Mr McCarthy, described it as a simple rights issue.

“It’s not even to do with ECT for me but about giving consent. No surgeon or doctor would touch me without permission and that’s the way it should be with this. There has to be consent.”

Dr Pat Bracken, consultant psychiatrist and clinical director of mental health services in west Cork, who is part of the campaign, said it was clear from the data published in relation to ECT use there are “enthusiasts” who are using the treatment in cases where alternatives could be considered.

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