Electroshocks for mentally ill patients to be banned

The pre-Independence direct electro-convulsive therapy (ECT) generally known as electroshock used to treat mentally ill patients, may soon be banned in India. Recommended for patients with severe depression who do not respond to other treatments, the therapy if necessary would be given only under the "influence of anesthesia".

Introduced in 1940, the ECT is a psychiatric treatment in which seizures are electrically induced in patients for therapeutic effect.

The Union Health Ministry, which on Tuesday held consultations with state government officials, doctors and administrators involved in the administration of the District Mental Health Programme to give final shape to the proposed Mental Health Care Bill, 2010, decided to do away with direct ECT.

"Even though the Health Ministry recommended a ban on the whole procedure, psychiatrists felt it should be allowed under anesthesia as in some cases it is a life-saving exercise," said a senior official.

The experts, however, agreed to ban the ECT on minors. Direct ECT is harmful as it leads to bone fractures and full seizures in many cases, say experts. "To totally ban ECT is wrong. But direct ECT should be banned. ECT under the influence of anesthesia, too, should be sparingly used," said Dr Nimesh Desai, director, Institute of Human Behaviour and Allied Sciences.

In view of complaints of abuse of law and rights of persons with mental illness, the ministry had earlier decided to amend the Mental Health Act, 1987.

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