ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Les psychiatres contre un projet de loi "sécuritaire"
Translated Saturday 19 March 2011, by Henry Crapoand reviewed by
Psychiatrists are mobilizing against attacks on personal freedom – today the French National Assembly begins debates on an involuntary internment bill, which some psychiatrists criticize as over-emphasizing security.
The drafting of the bill, entitled “Rights and protection of people undergoing psychiatric treatment, and the modalities of their treatment,” was initiated late in 2008 by Nicolas Sarkozy following the murder of a student in Grenoble by a mentally ill person who had escaped from a hospital.
The reform, which modifies a 1990 law, is aimed at guaranteeing “better treatment of ill people” and at “guaranteeing their security and the security of others,” as well as “respecting their basic rights.”
Until now, hospitalization has been the only form of treatment that could be imposed without a person’s consent. The bill will make it possible to impose outpatient “treatment.” It also makes it possible to impose psychiatric treatment if there is “an imminent danger” to the ill person’s health and to respond to “the practical problems posed when there is no third party.”
The reform concerns the 70,000 people who, every year, are forcibly interned, either at the demand of a third party or automatically when there is a danger to “the safety of people” or “public order.”
But the bill has aroused deep concern on the part of the “Collective of 39 against the dark night of excessive security.” The collective authored a petition which 10,000 people (health care providers, intellectuals…) have signed, and it criticizes a bill in which “public order is the only concern.”
The reform is also aimed at bringing the law into line with a recent decision handed down by the Constitutional Council (the French equivalent of the U.S. Supreme Court), which invalidated an article in the public health code which permitted continued internment without a request from a third party and for over two weeks without judicial control. The bill now provides for the intervention of a freedom and detention judge (JDL) after two weeks of internment, and at six-month intervals thereafter. Judges have, moreover, expressed some concern regarding this provision.
The Judges Professional Association (USM) and several associations of psychiatrists (Intersyndicale des psychiatres publics, Union syndicale de la psychiatrie...) criticize “a demonic machine” in a joint communiqué. “The underlying logic is clear: no confidence is to be placed in judges, no more than in doctors,” they protest, criticizing the bill as “retrograde, unjust and disproportionate.’
According to Mr. Guy Lefrand, the UMP deputy from the Eure département who tabled the bill, judicial oversight, which is to be put in place by August 1, will require “a very great effort on the part of health care teams and the court system.”
The text also abolishes trial releases from hospital and provides for heightened security measures for the most sensitive cases (people who are declared to be legally incompetent or who have been interned in a “unit for difficult patients”).
The associations of psychiatrists also fear the creation of a “psychiatric criminal file,” something that Guy Lefrand denies: “no file” and “no special criminal file” will be created, he declared.
The “Collective of 39” has called for a demonstration outside the National Assembly on the afternoon of March 15.
For more information: Une tribune de psychiatres publics