Z. v. Poland (European Court of Human Rights)


Primary Content

In September 2004, a pregnant woman died as a result of being denied access to medical care for fear of harming the fetus. Her mother, Z., is suing Poland for having violated her daughter’s rights including her right to life, private life, freedom from in human and degrading treatment, effective remedy, and non-discrimination.

Filing date: September 2008

Country/Region: Poland

Plaintiff(s): Z., the mother of a pregnant woman who died in September 2004 as a result of being denied medical treatment.

Center Attorney(s): Christina Zampas and Roseanne Kross

Partners: 1) University of Warsaw Law Clinic and 2) the Federation for Women and Family Planning

Summary: In early 2004, a Polish woman in her second month of pregnancy was diagnosed with a painful and serious colon disease.  But when she sought medical treatment, the woman found that doctors were more concerned with harming the fetus than with her medical needs. 

One after another, doctors in her hometown and nearby cities refused to treat her, even though it was unlikely that the fetus would be harmed.  By September 2004, the woman had miscarried.  Shortly after, she died.

Poland Sued in European Court of Human Rights

In September 2008, the Center assisted the Polish Federation for Women and Family Planning and the Warsaw University Law Clinic in filing a lawsuit against Poland on behalf of the deceased woman's mother. 

Brought before the European Court of Human Rights, the case asserts that medical care that disregards the health of the pregnant woman in favor of that of her fetus violates the woman's rights to life, to freedom from inhumane and degrading treatment, and to non-discrimination.

The Need to Regulate Conscientious Objection in Healthcare

The case also seeks to clarify international guidelines for conscientious objection.  The Polish woman was denied timely and proper care that could have saved her life and allowed her to have a safe pregnancy because Poland failed to regulate doctors\' right to refuse care on moral or religious grounds. 

The case aims to ensure that the Polish government guarantees an adequate number of healthcare workers who are willing to provide all legal services and that patients receive timely referrals to these workers. It also asks the court to affirm that conscientious objection may not be invoked by institutions such as hospitals, nor be used to deny patients information or emergency care.

See summary of facts and issues by the European Court of Human Rights.