G.B. and R.B. v. The Republic of Moldova

Application No. 16761/09
Download Judgment: English

Plaintiffs in this case were husband and wife. When G.B. was giving birth at the Stefan-Vodă regional hospital, a state-owned regional hospital, the head of the obstetrics and gynecology department preformed a Caesarean section on her and removed her ovaries and Fallopian tubes without obtaining her permission. As a result, G.B. suffered early menopause and became sterile.

The Căuşeni District Court convicted the doctor of medical negligence causing severe damage to G.B’s health and bodily integrity. The Supreme Court of Justice overturned that decision, finding the doctor guilty but absolving him of criminal responsibility because the limitation period for sentencing had expired.

Plaintiffs brought civil proceedings against the state hospital and the doctor, seeking to require the hospital to provide G.B. with free treatment for her condition that had resulted from the removal of her ovaries and Fallopian tubes. The Căuşeni District Court ordered the hospital to provide the requisite medication until 2020 and awarded damages to the plaintiffs, though much less than the damages they had sought. The court awarded such a small sum on the grounds that the doctor had already voluntarily compensated the plaintiffs and that a larger sum would have seriously affected the hospital’s ability to operate. The Supreme Court of Justice upheld the lower court’s judgment, and the plaintiffs appealed to the European Court of Human Rights.

Plaintiffs alleged that their rights protected under Article 8 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (“Convention”) were breached as result of G.B.’s sterilization and the nominal amount of compensation awarded to them. Article 8 protects the right to private and family life.

The Court first held that it only had to examine the issues raised from the standpoint of G.B.’s right to respect for her physical integrity and not the interference of her husband’s right to respect for his family life, although it would give note to his role as G.B.’s husband.

As to the merits, the Court held that, as confirmed by the domestic courts, there had clearly been a serious interference with G.B.’s physical and psychological integrity. The Court noted that administering medical treatment against the wishes of a patient is a violation of the rights included under “private life” in Article 8 of the Convention. As the domestic courts had already implicitly come to the conclusion that a violation of Article 8 had occurred, the Court could not overturn that finding unless the conclusion was manifestly unreasonable or the legal principles had been misinterpreted or misapplied.

As to the damages, the Court held that the award granted by the domestic courts was far below what the Court generally granted in cases involving Article 8 violations. Article 41 of the Convention allows the Court to afford just satisfaction to the victim of a violation if the domestic court only grants partial redress. The Court found that this case presented a particularly serious interference with G.B.’s rights as she had lost the ability to reproduce. The Court held that the domestic courts had not provided any particular reason for granting such a small sum apart from the fact that a larger amount would undermine the hospital’s ability to operate. The Court held that this was an impermissible reason because the hospital was owned by the State, and the State is liable to cover any of its expenses. The Court awarded plaintiffs EUR 12,000 in damages and EUR 2,000 for costs.

“[T]he concept of ‘private life’ is a broad term not susceptible to exhaustive definition. It covers, inter alia, the physical and psychological integrity of a person. In particular, administering medical treatment contrary to the wishes of a patient will interfere with his or her rights under Article 8 of the Convention.” Pages 5-6.

“Even though the courts did not expressly refer to Article 8 of the Convention, they established that there had been a serious interference with the first applicant’s physical and psychological integrity in the absence of her knowledge or consent.” Page 6

“It is fundamental to the machinery of protection established by the Convention that the national systems themselves provide redress for breaches of its provisions.” Page 6.