: Mental health laws

Mental health laws

Steven Castan
Western Australia

The Mental Health Bill 2013, introduced into the Western Australian parliament on 23rd October 2013, replaces the Mental Health Act 1996.

It is considered by the state government an important stage in the mental health law reform agenda in WA. A controversial aspect of the new legislation is that children will be able to consent to Electro-convulsive therapy, known as ECT from the age of 14 if they are a voluntary patient.

Such a procedure is used by medical practitioners to treat severe depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia but its benefits have been questioned and some medical practitioners consider its use should be only be as a ‘last resort’ in adults, let alone children.

The Barnett government says the laws will give patients greater say in their mental health treatment however some medical practitioners are concerned that children who may be depressed or suffering severe mental symptoms should not be able to make a decision for such treatment given the risks. The Act does provide safeguards, such as Section 195 which stipulates that in the event that the child does not have the capacity for informed consent, their parent or guardian may provide such informed consent. Further, the Act requires that the Mental Health tribunal must approve the treatment and may decide that the consent is not valid. WA’s Commissioner for Children and Young People, Michelle Scott, provided a submission to the government about ECT. She said the therapy should be prohibited for all children and young people and that the minimum age for the treatment should be 16.

STEVEN CASTAN is a barrister.

(2013) 38(4) AltLJ 280
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