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Legal Issues Relating to Electroconvulsive Therapy

H. Richard Beresford, MD, JD
Arch Gen Psychiatry. 1971;25(2):100-102. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.1971.01750140004002.
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A survey of 54 psychiatric units disclosed that 49 (91%) were using electroconvulsive (ECT), principally for major depressive illnesses. During the five-year period 1964 to 1968, fractures and other complications of ECT were uncommon. Sudden death was reported in seven cases. During this period, none of the respondents or their affiliated physicians had been involved in lawsuits relating to the use of ECT. In general, suits for injuries occasioned by the use of ECT seem to be declining. Possible remaining problem areas are the performance of ECT without the prior consent of the patient; the failure to have facilities and personnel available for managing cardiorespiratory emergencies occurring during ECT; failure to diagnose or treat an ECT-related injury; and perhaps the failure to use ECT where the indications are compelling.

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