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Mental health patient sues Box Hill Hospital for assault after 'shock therapy' against his will

By Louise Milligan

A Melbourne mental health patient is suing a hospital and two doctors for assault, restraint of freedom of movement and trespass on his person after he claims they administered electroconvulsive treatment (ECT), once known as “shock therapy”, against his will.

The matter of patient Garth Daniels and Eastern Health will be heard at County Court when Mr Daniels attempts to stop Box Hill Hospital doctors from treating him with the therapy.

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Mr Daniels is an involuntary patient at the locked psychiatric facility, Upton House, in Box Hill and has instructed solicitors to sue the hospital for unlawful trespass on his person after they administered 31 ECT treatments since August, without his consent.

Lawyers acting for Eastern Health told Judge Frank Saccardo, at a directions hearing into the matter on Thursday, that the case relied on Mr Daniels’ capacity and reliability as a witness, which they argue is diminished by his mental illness.

Professor Paul Katz, who oversees Mr Daniels’ care as executive clinical director of Mental Health at Eastern Health, told 7.30 that ECT was the only option available to treat Mr Daniels’ illness apart from the anti-psychotic drug, Clozapine, which Mr Daniels and his family have refused.

“Garth has a very, very severe, chronic, mental illness (that’s) pharmacologically treatment-resistant,” Professor Katz said.

“More recently, we introduced ECT into his treatment regime and the treating team have not seen Garth this well in our long association with him and his family.

“I need to stress that it’s exceptionally clinically effective, under certain conditions.

“We adopt a judicious and discerning approach to the use of ECT but the clinical effects are just absolutely remarkable.”

Mr Daniels’ father, Bernard, has pleaded with the hospital to stop subjecting his son to ECT.

“My view is that it’s like taking a 10-tonne hammer, hitting it on someone’s head and you have a headache so you don’t feel anything else,” he told 7.30.

“I think it’s draconian, I think it should be outlawed.”

Mr Daniels is also upset at the length of time his son has been placed in mechanical restraint during his stays in care.

At one stage this year, in another Eastern Health hospital, Mr Daniels spent more than 60 days straight in restraints.

Professor Katz said restraint was used at a bare minimum where possible and is not as draconian as it appears to the outside world.

“It’s a velcro, it’s not the picture painted sometimes of some draconian chain, you know, the person’s chained, it’s not quite correct,” Professor Katz said.

Bernard Daniels has employed the services of private practice psychiatrist Niall ‘Jock’ McLaren for an independent evaluation of his son’s mental capacity.

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Dr McLaren believes Mr Daniels has the requisite mental capacity to reject ECT treatment.

“I would never restrain any human being for 69 days straight – end of discussion,” Dr McLaren told 7.30.

“If you treat people like animals, they will respond like animals.”

Professor Katz said when Mr Daniels was psychotic he became extremely aggressive, and the restraints were necessary for his own safety and the safety of other patients and staff.

Mr Daniels admits his memory has faltered in recent times, particularly after receiving each course of ECT, but he told 7.30 he is capable of deciding on the type of treatment he receives.

Mr Daniels has recently attempted suicide.

His father fears if the treatment does not stop, his son will deteriorate beyond repair.

“His mother has said, you know, that ‘This boy of ours is beginning to give up hope and we’ve got to do something about it’,” Bernard Daniels said.

“I certainly think it will end somewhat tragically because if Garth loses his memory and is unable to do his (photography) course, which is the last straw he is actually hanging on to, his response will be, ‘I have no purpose in life’.

This post originally appeared on ABC News.

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