IN A FEW days, Louis Weinstein will be 81 years old. It will not necessarily be a happy birthday, because the past three decades of his life have been miserable. His son, Dr. Harvey Weinstein, a Stanford University psychiatrist, has described his father as "a lost soul . . . a poor, pathetic man with no memory, no life." His condition was caused by "treatment" he received in a Montreal hospital during the '50s. Mr. Weinstein and a number of other Canadians were admitted to the Royal Victoria Hospital for psychiatric treatment, but their doctor used them to experiment with LSD, extensive shock treatments, sleep deprivation and attempted brainwashing. The research had been financed by the CIA, which, in the post-Korean War years, was trying to learn more about mind-control techniques.

These patients and their families were not informed that they were to be part of an experiment, and they did not give their consent to these procedures. The CIA's involvement was revealed only years later during the course of congressional investigations. Mr. Weinstein and eight other victims -- one of them the wife of a member of the Canadian parliament -- then sued the U.S. government for damages. They ask only $175,000 each, which can hardly compensate them for years of suffering. But the symbolic nature of compensation is important. The progress of the case in an American court, though, has added insult to injury.

The action was filed on Dec. 11, 1980. The CIA has stonewalled every step of the way. The taking of depositions took years. Judge John Garrett Penn took a full year to rule on a motion to dismiss. In October the CIA filed a motion for summary judgment that was not argued until March 10. Judge Penn has still not ruled on that motion, and the trial cannot proceed until he does.

Of the nine plaintiffs, one died in January 1986. Mr. Weinstein is soon to be 81. Before the end of the year, others will be 77, 72, 71 and 70. Time is important to them and delay -- is it calculated? -- is disgraceful. There is no national security interest at stake here, but national honor is. The government should settle this case promptly and pay the nominal damages. If this is not done, Judge Penn has a responsibility to decide the motion for summary judgment and move to trial without delay.