Case 198546

C.E., n°198546, 26 October 2001
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The plaintiff’s husband was hospitalized due to severe renal failure. Conscious of his severe state of health, the husband wrote a statement ten days later stating that, as a Jehovah’s Witness, he refused to get any blood products or transfusions, even if there were essential to his survival. The doctors gave him a blood transfusion when he developed severe anemia, in spite of knowing that he wished not to receive one. He died a few days later.

His wife sued the public hospital for the violation of her husband’s will. The successive administrative courts denied her any right to compensation. She brought her case to the French Supreme Administrative Court.

The plaintiff claimed violations of Article 3 (inhuman treatment) and Article 5 (right to security of person) of the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.

The Court found that the widow’s claim was justified in that the administrative court of appeal had overriden the principle of free will of the patient in favor of the doctor's duty of care. The Court reasoned that, even if the doctors’ main objective is to save their patients, they still have to take into account their patients’ wills.

The Court then found that, in this particular case, the doctors had adopted the most appropriate and proportionate solution in order to save their patient and the wife was thus not entitled to compensation.

The Court did not address the appropriate remedy had the doctor chosen not to perform a blood transfusion due to the patient’s refusal, leading to his death, and thus it is unclear if the lack of action would have been actionable.

“Considering that Mr. X was in an extremely severe health condition, his doctors have chosen to execute an act indispensable to his survival and proportionate to his condition, in the unique aim to save him. In these conditions, apart from their obligation to respect his will based on his religious views, they did not commit any fault engaging the responsibility of the Public Hospital.” Page 2.

"Considérant que, compte tenu de la situation extrême dans laquelle M. X se trouvait, les médecins qui le soignaient ont choisi, dans le seul but de tenter de le sauver, d’accomplir un acte indispensable à sa survie et proportionné à son état ; que, dans ces conditions, et quelle que fût par ailleurs leur obligation de respecter sa volonté fondée sur ses convictions religieuses, ils n’ont pas commis de faute de nature à engager la responsabilité de l’Assistance Publique-Hôpitaux de Paris." Page 2.

"Considering that the blood transfusions given to Mr. X did not constitute a degrading nor inhuman treatment, nor a privation of the right to liberty stated in article 3 and 5 of the convention on human rights and fundamental freedoms...." Page 2.

"Considérant que les transfusions sanguines administrées à M. X ne sauraient constituer un traitement inhumain ou dégradant, ni une privation du droit à la liberté au sens des dispositions des articles 3 et 5 de la convention européenne de sauvegarde des droits de l’homme et des libertés fondamentales." Page 2.