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The ethics of electroconvulsive therapy

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During the last forty years, there has been increasing interest in the concept of professional ethics, particularly in the area of medical ethics. Psychiatry as a medical speciality has been part of the process because it is deeply concerned with the view society holds and the ethical values that they place upon psychiatry. It is with this in mind that I have decided to address an ethical issue that exists within psychiatry, which is an intrusive psychiatric treatment. Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is arguably of this description. With the advent of anaesthesia and muscle relaxants, the traumatic effects of ECT have been reduced but serious side effects are still evident within the patient population receiving ECT. My position within this thesis is to claim that ECT is unethical and should not be used, (except in absolute emergencies). This claim is based on the knowledge that ECT is a treatment, which causes iatrogenic injury to the brain. Electricity is applied in such a way to provoke an epileptic type seizure or convulsion. The issue of whether or not ECT is morally and ethically justified as a practice or as a recommended form of treatment will be approached from a number of different theoretical positions.


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