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PACE committee calls for an end to coercive practices in mental health

PACE Committee on Social Affairs, Health and Sustainable Development has urged Council of Europe member States to “immediately start to transition to the abolition of coercive practices in mental health settings”.

Unanimously approving a draft resolution and a draft recommendation adopted on the basis of a report by Reina de Bruijn-Wezeman (Netherlands, ALDE), the committee said mental health systems across Europe “should be reformed to adopt a human rights-based approach which is [...] respectful of medical ethics and of the human rights of the persons concerned, including their right to free and informed consent”.

A recent overall increase in the use of involuntary measures in mental health settings “mainly results from a culture of confinement, which focuses and relies on coercion to ‘control’ and ‘treat’ patients who are considered potentially ‘dangerous’ to themselves or others,” the committee said in a draft resolution.

Yet evidence from sociological fieldwork research points to “overwhelmingly negative experiences of coercive measures, including pain, trauma and fear”, the parliamentarians said.

The parliamentarians instead called for “effective and accessible support services for persons experiencing crises and emotional distress, including safe and supportive spaces to discuss suicide and self-harm”, as well as development of “non-coercive measures including community-based responses such as peer-led crisis or respite services, and other initiatives such as advance planning”.

The parliamentarians welcomed the Council of Europe Committee on Bioethics (DH-BIO)’s plans to engage in a study on “Good practices in mental healthcare – how to promote voluntary measures” and invited the Committee of Ministers to encourage DH-BIO to carry out such a study, while also proposing to prepare Guidelines on ending coercion in mental health, rather than an Additional Protocol to the Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine, concerning involuntary placement and treatment.

The report is due to be debated by the Assembly during the June 2019 part-session.