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Tuesday, 18 February, 2003, 16:54 GMT
ECT challenge halted
(Picture posed by model)
ECT is given to severely depressed people
A High Court test case examining the legality of forcing severely depressed patients to have electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) has been halted by a judge.

It was decided the case could go no further after it was revealed the woman at its centre, known only as K, had improved and no longer needed the treatment.

Her lawyers said the case should continue so it could look at the general principle of using ECT.

But Mr Justice Stanley Burnton, said proceedings could not continue without a specific case to discuss.

Any likelihood of any ECT in the near future is extremely unlikely

Jeremy Hyam, South West London and St George's Mental Health NHS Trust
ECT is given to around 10,000 patients a year.

Doctors say it can save the lives of patients suffering suicidal depression.

But it is the only treatment requiring a general anaesthetic which can be administered without consent to a patient who has mental capacity.

'Invasive, inhuman and degrading'

The woman was admitted to a hospital in south-west London in January where doctors planned to administer emergency ECT, but her lawyers obtained a temporary injunction and applied for a judicial review of her case.

In written documents before the court, she described ECT as an "invasive, inhuman and degrading" treatment which, when given without her consent, would breach her human rights.

That three-day action was due to begin on Tuesday, but Jeremy Hyam, counsel for the South West London and St George's Mental Health NHS Trust, told the court that the matter had become "academic".

He said that because the woman's condition had improved, "any likelihood of any ECT in the near future is extremely unlikely".

The judge refused a request from the woman's counsel to continue with the case.

Mr Justice Barton said: "I am clear that if the question of the lawfulness of ECT, its compliancy with the Human Rights Act... are to be determined by this court, the court would be far better placed to make a correct determination...if it had a particular live case and expert evidence which addressed the general issues, including submissions on behalf of the Secretary of State for Health.

"That is not this present case.

"In those circumstances it seems to me that the arguments against continuing these proceedings are overwhelming."

The hospital has said it will not administer ECT to the woman without giving her solicitors 48 hours notice, unless she needs the treatment to save her life.

See also:

20 Sep 01 | Health
14 Mar 01 | Health
20 Dec 00 | Medical notes
26 Jan 00 | Health
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