'ECT' without consent

Madam, – I would like to congratulate Mary Maddock (Home News, December 7th) for sharing her experience of the impact that electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) had on her life with respect to long term memory loss, permanently robbing her of memories of the birth of her daughter, and of holding her for the first time in her arms. Her motivation to lobby for its abolition grew out of this heartbreak. Also the insightful letter by Rosemarie Rowley (December 8th) deserves serious reflection.

I was present in the public gallery of the Seanad on December 2nd, when Senators Dan Boyle and Déirdre de Búrca of the Green Party introduced a Private Members Bill seeking the abolition of the forced administration of ECT. It failed to be passed. Minister of State with special responsibility for mental health John Moloney felt he was unable to support it because he believed he had insufficient information on the subject. He stated categorically that before he brings the issue before the Dáil in March 2010, he felt he needed more time to consult with service-user organisations, to receive their testimonials and depositions, meet with interested parties, and to set up forums where the issue could be appropriately debated.

Those who actively lobby for the retention of involuntary ECT are ignoring the fact that its administration does not conform with the WHO guidelines on the human rights of patients. It is not a medical matter alone, but a humanitarian and medico-legal issue in which Ireland currently lags behind best practice, or even minimum standards of practice internationally.

One of the tragic ironies regarding the use of ECT is that it serves to instil high levels of fear in the public mind, especially the young, making vulnerable individuals averse to approaching the very services they are being encouraged to use, and greatly contributes to the stigma associated with “all things psychiatric”.

The Minister is offering a sincere and genuine opportunity for those opposed to ECT, in particular its forced use, to have their voice heard, and help to foster higher standards of practice within psychiatry. The time has come to end the culture of silence surrounding its damaging side-effects. Every week I talk to victims, families, psychiatric nurses, psychologists, and fellow psychiatrists who are deeply concerned at its continued use, and the true facts of its dehumanising atmosphere, which contaminates all concerned.

About the truth, Arthur Schopenhauer wrote that all truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as self-evident. To accelerate the inevitable demise of ECT, particularly its forced use, I encourage people to speak their truth and communicate it to the Minister, John Moloney, who cannot act without the necessary facts, which he seeks in good faith. – Yours, etc,


Consultant Psychiatrist and Psychotherapist,

Institute of Psychosocial Medicine,

Eden Park,

Dún Laoghaire,

Co Dublin.


Congratulations to you Michael Corry for your endless work to expose coercive psychiatry in Ireland and worldwide.