Woman appeals in Supreme Court to avoid forced electro therapy at Bendigo Health

A BENDIGO woman with schizophrenia has launched an appeal in the Supreme Court to avoid undergoing forced electroconvulsive treatment at Bendigo Health.

The woman was ordered to receive up to 12 rounds of the treatment against her wishes after the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal ruled she did not have the capacity to object.

The Mental Health Board made the order in April, but the woman took the case to VCAT fearing the treatment would cause her memory problems.

VCAT made its ruling in Bendigo last week, which has since been appealed in the Supreme Court.

The woman, referred to as NJE, was diagnosed with schizophrenia more than 20 years ago and was admitted into Bendigo Health’s secure care inpatient unit earlier this year.

Bendigo Health’s first two attempts to carry out electroconvulsive treatment were rejected by the Mental Health Board, but the third was approved.

The treatment involves sending electric pulses through a person’s brain to cause seizures. The person is under general anesthetic and muscle relaxant at the time.

The tribunal heard attempts to discuss the treatment with NJE caused “an escalation in her antagonism towards the treating team”. She was instead given material to read, and she “understood the general nature of the procedure”.

Medication had resulted in a “very slight improvement” in her condition.

Victoria Legal Aid represented NJE in the hearing, and solicitor Lucy Geddes said it would be better to continue with the medication regime during an extended period in the hospital, and to possibly trial NJE on Clozapine.

She said the treating team should have made greater efforts to engage with NJE.

The tribunal heard NJE believes she has “psychic abilities” and is regularly awake all night in a state she describes as “working”.

One of the treating doctors told VCAT she had made attempts to engage with NJE about the treatment, but it only increased antagonism.

She said NJE could read and understand information about electroconvulsive treatment, but did not have the capacity to “use and weigh” the information. The doctor said this was because NJE denied she had resistant schizophrenia or mental illness.

VCAT member Brendan Hoysted agreed that NJE could not weigh up the advantages and disadvantages of the treatment.

“To ‘use and weigh’ requires a person to carefully consider the advantages and disadvantages of a situation or proposal before making a decision,” he said.

“NJE could not apply herself in that way. Her decision to refuse electroconvulsive treatment was made without prior consideration of the advantages and disadvantages.”

He ordered NJE to undergo 12 courses of electroconvulsive treatment by September 20, but the decision has been appealed.

The Supreme Court will hear the appeal on August 14 and 15.