Sun, Jul 25, 2004 - Page 6 News List

Rowling slams cage beds

AP , BRATISLAVA, SLOVAKIA

Critics call them archaic and barbaric, cages that needlessly trap tormented souls who are already prisoners of their own minds.

Cage beds, fitted with metal bars or nets to control difficult patients, are being phased out across central and eastern Europe, ending a practice that dates to the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

This month, officials in Hungary and the Czech Republic ordered an end to their use at psychiatric hospitals. Slovenia abolished their use a few years ago, and Slovakia has banned them in some care facilities.

The Czech order came last week after Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling complained about the beds, joining the EU, Amnesty International and rights groups that have denounced them as inhuman and degrading.

All four countries recently joined the EU, which for years had criticized them for the use of cage beds. Mental health experts say the beds are still used in Croatia and elsewhere in the Balkans.

Rowling appealed to the Czech ambassador to Britain and to Czech President Vaclav Klaus to end the practice after seeing a report about a five-year-old mentally handicapped boy who spent most of his time in a cage bed at a Czech facility.

The Czech Republic's top health official responded by ordering the beds removed from psychiatric facilities, saying Rowling's appeal was the last straw prompting him to act.

However, the order did not extend to "social care" facilities, which care for people without psychiatric problems, such as the mentally retarded or physically disabled. There are 654 beds fitted with bars or netting in the country, and they will remain in use for now.

Dr. Pavel Cernak, Slovakia's chief psychiatrist, said other ways of restraining patients are worse.

"We think that tying people up, isolating them or sedating them more to restrain them is more inhuman than cage beds," he said.

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