French Government Announces Recommendations to End Torturous Practice Against Children With Autism

Washington, DC - March 13, 2012 - The French government announced last week that it is "formally opposed" to the practice of "packing therapy" - a so-called treatment for children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorders or psychosis, treated in an estimated 300 psychiatric and educational facilities across the country under the auspices of the French Ministry of Health. The Higher Health Authority (HAS) and the National Agency for the Evaluation and Quality of Hospital, Social and Health-Social Services (ANSEM) announced their opposition to the use of packing citing "the absence of data regarding its effectiveness and its safety" and given "the ethical issues raised by the technique." But it is unclear if the government plans to monitor or punish those who continue to use packing on children. Packing involves tightly wrapping the child's entire body in wet, refrigerated sheets or towels - with only the head exposed - for almost an hour. Typically, packing sessions are repeated several times a week and can go on for months, sometimes without parental consent. Despite the absence of scientific evidence, French therapists and psychiatrists continue to argue that packing reinforces talk therapy in their effort to "cure" the child. In late February, Disability Rights International (DRI) released a statement calling the practice a violation of the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. Laurie Ahern, President of DRI stated, "This practice is nothing more than abuse couched in the name of treatment and a violation of basic human rights." The former UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Manfred Nowak, has made clear that it is the responsibility of the State to regulate institutions and that the State can be held responsible if doctors, therapists, social workers or others inflict torture on those within their power. Governments must "exercise due diligence to prevent, investigate, prosecute and punish such non-State officials or private actors."