HEC Forum

, Volume 25, Issue 1, pp 79–94 | Cite as

Is Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) Ever Ethically Justified? If so, Under What Circumstances

  • Mary Stefanazzi


The debate about ECT in Ireland in recent times has been vibrant and often polarised. The uniqueness of the Irish situation is that the psychiatric profession is protected by legislation whereby ECT treatment can be authorized by two consultant psychiatrists without the consent of the patient. This paper will consider if ECT is ever ethically justified, and if so, under what circumstances. The proposal is to investigate ECT from an ethical perspective with reference to the UNESCO Universal Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights. The enquiry will begin with an historical context to the origin and development of ECT as a treatment for severe mental illness. The application of various ethical principles will be considered in conjunction with the relevant literature before arriving at a conclusion.


UNESCO universal declaration on bioethics and human rights Electroconvulsive therapy ECT Ireland Psychiatry Mental illness Ethical principles Informed consent 



This article owes particular thanks to the late John McCarthy of Mad Pride Ireland for his commitment in lobbing for legislative change regarding ECT in Ireland and to Senator Dan Boyle for taking up the issue and initiating the debate in the Senate. I am grateful to John and Dan for their help in clarifying the myriad of systemic difficulties surrounding this issue after the Senate debate on 23rd March 2011. Finally, to Dr. David L. Magee M.B., MRC. Psych; Psychiatrist and Psychotherapist, for his willingness to debate the issues and recommend useful source materials with exceptional hospitality.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Private PracticeDublin 7Ireland

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