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Czech court awards two women compensation for illegal sterilizations

Prague, 7.1.2010 14:42, (ROMEA)

Two women who are no longer able to bear children as a result of operations performed on them without their permission have been awarded hundreds of thousands of Czech crowns by the High Court in Prague. David Záhumenský, chair of the League of Human Rights, which is representing the patients, announced the news in a press release to Romea.cz today. Some activists say dozens of women, most of them Roma, have been sterilized without their consent in the Czech Republic, but precise statistics on the phenomenon have not been gathered.

Záhumenský said the court has awarded CZK 200 000 to a woman from North Bohemia. A previous decision by the regional court awarded her only one-fourth that amount.

Another woman was awarded CZK 150 000 in compensation for the removal of her ovaries without her consent. The High Court doubled the amount awarded by the lower court.

The League says medical professionals in both cases most probably did not intend the women harm. In the case of the sterilization, they believed they were protecting the woman from the risk associated with carrying another child to term, and in the case of the ovary removal, they believed they were reducing the woman’s risk of cancer. However, instead of offering the women other possible solutions and allowing them to freely choose, the doctors decided in an authoritarian manner on the women’s behalf. “Such an approach has nothing to do with modern medicine. Doctors must learn to respect patients’ freedom of choice and their rights. If they not, then they should count on patients turning to the courts, which are slowly learning to award compensation for such harms in amounts that are not insignificant even for large hospitals,” Zahumenský said.

The League of Human Rights informs patients of their rights through the web pages of a special project, “Fair Hospital”. People can access the project’s counseling service free of charge; the project strives to achieve out-of-court settlements of health care disputes.

The Czech Constitutional Court has repeatedly pointed out that the failure to award sufficient satisfaction for violations of bodily integrity is equivalent to denial of justice. Despite this, it is taking a very long time for the Czech courts to learn to award the kind of financial compensation that could at least somewhat ameliorate the harm caused by these violations of human dignity.

In the past, several women suing over illegally performed sterilizations have not succeeded. Last October the Constitutional Court rejected a complaint by Helena Ferenčíková, who was awarded an apology from the Vítkovice Hospital, but not the one million crowns compensation she was seeking, due to the expiration of the statute of limitations.

In 2007 the Regional Court in Ostrava awarded CZK 500 000 to Ms Iveta Červeňáková, also represented by the League. However, the High Court subsequently overturned that ruling due to expiration of the statute of limitations. The League believes the fair amount of financial satisfaction in cases of such serious violations of bodily integrity should be a minimum of half a million crowns.

In November 2009, the government of Czech PM Jan Fischer expressed regret over these illegal sterilizations, which have primarily concerned Romani women. Czech Human Rights and Minorities Minister Michael Kocáb says measures are forthcoming to prevent similar crimes. Health care facilities should be able to ensure that women undergoing sterilization have given genuinely informed consent. The Czech Health Ministry should include this question on the program of its Expert Forum for the Creation of Standards of Care.

ČTK, Gwendolyn Albert, ROMEA, ROMEA, ČTK, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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