Solomakhin v. Ukraine

[2012] ECHR 24429/03
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The applicant, Sergey Solomakhin, visited Donetsk City Hospital on November 23rd, 1998. There, he was diagnosed with an acute respiratory disease and prescribed out-patient treatment. On his next visit, the hospital conducted a diphtheria vaccine reaction test, and he did not react to the diphtheria antigens. On November 28th, 1998, he was vaccinated against diphtheria. On November 20th the applicant was examined by a doctor who noted positive results from the treatment for his acute respiratory disease. He was later diagnosed with tracheobronchitis in further visits to the doctor in December 1998. Afterwards the applicant spent over 6 months receiving treatment at different medical institutions for several chronic diseases. On February 4th,1999 the Chief Doctor of the Donetsk City Hospital chastised the doctor and nurse who vaccinated despite him consistently objecting to the vaccination and being simultaneously treated for an acute respiratory infection.

In April 26th, 1999, the applicant began proceedings seeking compensation for damages to his health in the Budyonnovskiy District Court in Donetsk against the local department of public health and the Hospital. He alleged that the vaccination had been administered to him against his will while he was ill and caused him to suffer from several chronic diseases. He also submitted complaints regarding the quality of the vaccine, stating that it was uncertified, expired and improperly stored. Lastly, he alleged that the doctors tried to falsify medical records and conceal the negative effects of the vaccination. The applicant argued that there was no reason to interfere with his private life because at the time there had not been a diphtheria outbreak in his town.

In 2003, the district court found that there was no causal link between the applicant’s vaccination and his diseases. The court also indicated that the vaccination had not broken any medical rules because the applicant did not exhibit acute symptoms of any disease at the time of vaccination. Further, the court noted that the epidemic situation in Donetsk mandated the applicant’s vaccination against diphtheria and that the applicant could have refused the vaccination, as he had done several times before. The court also found that that the applicant’s allegations about the quality of the vaccine were speculative and not substantiated by evidence. This court’s judgement was upheld by the Donetsk Regional Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court in 2008.

On the issue of whether the vaccination infringed on the applicant’s right to respect his private life, the Court stated that the physical integrity of a person falls under “private life” as guaranteed by Article 8 of the Convention, emphasizing that a person’s bodily integrity is one of the most intimate aspects of their private life, and as such compulsory medical intervention constitutes an infringement of this right. Compulsory vaccination falls under this category and thus is an interference with the right to respect for one’s private life as protected by Article 8 ss.1.

On the issue of whether the interference was justifiable in a democratic society, the Court held that the interference with the applicant’s bodily integrity was justified by public health concerns and the necessity to control the spread of the infectious disease. The court reasoned that the domestic court’s finding that the medical staff had checked the applicant’s suitability prior to vaccination suggest that the necessary precautions had been taken and that the competing interests between the applicant’s personal integrity and the public interests of protection of health had been appropriately balanced. The Court further noted that that the applicant failed to explain why he did not object to the vaccination, despite previously objecting on several occasions.

Furthermore, the Court found that the applicant’s allegations regarding the quality of the vaccine were unsubstantiated. The only significant irregularity in the vaccination procedure was the vaccination being done outside of the special vaccination room, but this was not found to have affected the applicant’s health in any way. Also, the patient did not manifest any of the known side-effects of the vaccination. There was no evidence proving a causal link between vaccination and the applicant’s health. Consequently, the Court found no violation of Article 8 of the Convention.

“The Court has emphasized that a person’s bodily integrity concerns the most intimate aspects of one’s private life, and that compulsory medical intervention, even if it is of a minor importance, constitutes an interference with this right. Compulsory vaccination—as an involuntary medical treatment—amounts to an interference with the right to respect for one’s private life, which includes a person’s physical and psychological integrity, as guaranteed by Article 8 ss. 1.” (para 33)

“The Court notes that in the instant case… there has been an interference with the applicant’s private life. The Court further notes that such an interference was clearly provided by law and pursued the legitimate aim of the protection of health. It remains to be examined whether this interference was necessary in a democratic society.” (paras 34-35)

“In the Court’s opinion the interference with the applicant’s physical integrity could be said to be justified by the public health considerations and the necessity to control the spreading of infectious diseases in the region. Furthermore, according to the domestic court’s findings, the medical staff had checked his suitability for vaccination prior to carrying out the vaccination, which suggests that necessary precautions had been taken to ensure that the medical intervention would not be to the applicant’s detriment to the extent that would upset the balance of interests between the applicant’s personal integrity and the public interest of protection of health of the population.” (para 36)