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Electroconvulsive therapy: the importance of informed consent and ‘placebo literacy’
  1. Charlotte Blease
  1. Correspondence to Dr Charlotte Rosalind Blease, School of Politics, International Studies and Philosophy, Queen's University Belfast, 25 University Square, Belfast BT7 1PB, Northern Ireland, UK; cblease02{at}

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I thank Julie Hersh for her thoughtful and valuable comments on the use of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT).1 Discussions with those who have experience of treatments (such as ECT) is of the utmost importance when debating issues such as informed consent. I am therefore very pleased to be given this opportunity to respond. Hersh offers three main criticisms of my paper but I hope to show that the tenets of the paper are not undermined by her commentary.

Hersh's first criticism stems from her personal experience: she claims that, ‘The results of ECT for me were miraculous’. She argues that ECT ‘works’ and we have ‘70 years of remarkably positive experience’ to support this fact. In response, I agree that there are certainly patients who believe that ECT has been a highly effective intervention: but equally, there are others who have experienced intolerable side effects as a result.2 ECT is a controversial treatment precisely because of the serious long-term risk of memory loss.3 ,4 If we are to strive for the best healthcare possible, we cannot base our conclusions merely on positive cases: we need to consider all cases (and this is why providing information on side effects is extremely important for this form of treatment). Thus, I reject her conclusion that ECT is ‘remarkably positive’ for all patients: studies do not unequivocally support Hersh's fortunate experiences. In addition, I must also challenge the assumption that ECT ‘works’. Counterintuitive as …

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  • Funding None.

  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; internally peer reviewed.

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