European Court of Human Rights Issues Judgment in Z v. Poland

This week the European Court of Human Rights issued a disappointing judgment in Z v. Poland, a case brought by a mother, known as Z, on behalf of her daughter, a pregnant woman who died as a result of having been denied necessary and available medical care for a treatable disease. The court failed to rule that in this case Poland violated any of its obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights.

The Center for Reproductive Rights finds this decision deeply disappointing. The court failed to acknowledge that Z's daughter's pregnancy was the main reason why the young woman was denied basic health care. Based primarily on the fact that the Polish government disputed several of the facts, including claims that doctors denied medical care on the grounds of personal or religious objection, the court declared several of the allegations inadmissible.

The court also relied heavily on statements from Polish medical officials that alleged that the young woman had been given appropriate treatment, in complete disregard of the medically established fact that her illness was entirely treatable and that given correct treatment, nobody suffering from this ailment should have to die. Denying medical treatment on biased grounds is a clear breach of fundamental human rights and flagrantly violates medical ethics. We are shocked by the court's decision to ignore how Poland's flawed health care system led to a preventable maternal mortality. At the same time, the Center takes comfort that this judgment, declaring claims inadmissible based on disputed facts rather than on human rights principles, will not be detrimental to future cases on reproductive rights in Poland or elsewhere.

In P & S v. Poland, issued two weeks ago, the European Court of Human Rights rebuked Poland for failing to regulate and monitor the widespread use of personal and religious objection in relation to reproductive health care, which has devastating consequences for women's health. The court failed to reiterate this important lesson to the Polish government in the case of Z's daughter, even though it is clear that doctors on conscience grounds denied her treatment based on the incorrect assumption that basic medical diagnostic services would harm her fetus.

The Center deplores this judgment, and we wish to express our deepest sympathy to Ms. Z, the applicant in the case and the mother of the young woman who died.