Czech psychiatric system faces European Court of Human Rights after tragic incident of patient’s death
The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) issued a landmark judgment on Thursday regarding a tragic incident that occurred in 2015 at a psychiatric hospital in Olomouc. The case involved a patient suffering from paranoid schizophrenia who died after a police intervention that included the use of a Taser and the administration of sedatives.
During one of his seizures, the man was taken to a psychiatric hospital in Olomouc. There he became aggressive, began attacking orderlies and destroying hospital property. The doctors, confronted with the patient’s violent behaviour, called the police, who responded with three Taser discharges. Subsequently, the patient was given an injection of sedatives and died shortly thereafter. The initial cause of death was determined to be cardiac arrhythmia.
The entire situation became the subject of an investigation by the Inspector General of Security Forces, which closed the case and the police shelved the case. Although the patient’s sister, who filed a complaint, took the case to the Constitutional Court, she was not successful there either.
The outcome of the case went all the way to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. This process highlighted the failure of Czech psychiatry to respond adequately to the predictable crisis of a patient diagnosed with schizophrenia. Lawyer Šárka Dušková of the Validity Foundation, who represented the family of the deceased, commented on the judgment, saying that the ECtHR highlighted the failure of Czech psychiatry to respond to the patient’s crisis.
The key aspects of the court’s decision were that de-escalation techniques were not used and the patient was not offered less severe treatments than sedation. The judgement also criticised the lack of police information about the patient’s medical condition, including his treatment for high blood pressure. Furthermore, the court condemned the actions of the police officers who placed the patient in a position on his stomach, which carries a risk of suffocation.
In response to the judgment, Petr Konůpka, the government’s commissioner for the representation of the Czech Republic before the European Court of Human Rights, said that the court’s decision will be discussed by the College of Experts on the Enforcement of ECHR Judgments. This institution will propose measures to prevent similar situations in the future.
The judgment also awarded the deceased’s family €25,000 in compensation. This event highlights the need for changes in the Czech mental health care system and the need to deinstitutionalise services. Šárka Dušková noted that it is essential that the government and the Ministry of Health take measures to implement the judgment and improve care for patients with mental illness.
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