European Court Considers Forced Sterilization Case
Encompasses Debate on Eugenics, Family Rights
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The court will hold a hearing on March 22 in the case of V.C. v. Slovakia, in which a woman of Roma ethnic origin (also known as a gypsy) claimed to have been sterilized in a public hospital without her full informed consent.
The European Centre for Law and Justice reported that this case is the first of several brought to the European court by other Roma women who were similarly sterilized after 1999, after the fall of the communist regime in Slovakia.
The woman, V.C., says that she was sterilized in 2000 during the delivery of her second child, without understanding the nature and consequences of the procedure. She also reported ethnic segregation in the ward of the public hospital, and claimed that her Roma ethnicity was the deciding factor in her sterilization.
The Presov Public Hospital, which treated the woman, denied the accusations, stating that the sterilization was carried out due to the medical risk of the rupture of the woman's uterus. It added that the procedure took place only after the patient was warned of the danger of subsequent pregnancies and gave her consent.
The European Centre for Law and Justice (ECLJ) noted "two serious issues" encompassed in this case: the eugenic ideology and the obligations of the state regarding the right to found a family.
It explained that in this case and others, the applicants referenced a number of documents about the history of forced sterilizations of the Roma people in Czechoslovakia since the 1970s in an effort to control that population.
"Forced sterilization is not a new practice in Europe," Gregor Puppinck, ECLJ director, stated. "Many western countries have adopted eugenic laws during the 20th century providing for forced sterilization through judicial procedure."
He added that "the very active 'population control' movements have very close ties with the eugenics ideology," which "still exists and still needs to be clearly condemned."
Puppinck affirmed that "the only form of sterilization unambiguously legal and moral is the medical or therapeutic one, when the sterilization is medically inevitable within a therapy."
On behalf of his organization, he expressed the hope that "the court will assert that everyone under the European Convention must be protected not only against forced sterilization, but also against 'incited sterilization,' in particular when it concerns members of vulnerable groups."
Freedom of couples
Puppinck also highlighted the second major issue regarding the right to found a family.
He noted that on several occasions, the court has recognized that "there is not a subjective right to procreate; there is only a protection against state interference in the freedom of couples to exercise their natural ability to have children by themselves."
"In the absence of compelling reasons (relative, for example, to age), the state must always respect, or more precisely, refrain from intervening in the decision of a couple to become parents," Puppinck asserted.
He continued, "The state thereby must not, for example, resort to contraception, sterilization or forced abortion, or the enforcement of dissuasive taxes for every new birth, as is the case in China."
Puppinck affirmed: "On one hand couples do not have the right to 'have a child,' which could compel the state to give them access to adoption or a means of artificial procreation.
"On the other hand, the state has to refrain from putting obstacles in the way of couples who wish to exercise their ability to procreate."
"Therefore," he concluded, "it is clear that a forced sterilization violates, inter alia, both article 8 and 12, while a refusal to legalize some techniques of artificial procreation does not."