No Compensation for the Coercive Sterilisation of a Romani Woman in Hungary
10 May 2003
On November 22, 2002, the Fehérgyarmat City Court ruled that the compensation claim filed by Ms A.Sz., a 30-year-old Romani woman from Szabolcs County who had been sterilised without her informed consent, was without basis. On January 2, 2001, Ms A.Sz., in her final month of pregnancy, was admitted to a hospital in Fehérgyarmat but her foetus had died due to a degenerated placenta. Upon admittance to the hospital, Ms A.Sz. received an ultrasound test, was undressed, shaved and signed several documents consenting to a caesarean section operation for the removal of her foetus. There was a hand-written amendment at the bottom of a document with Latin words which was a specific request to be sterilised, and in signing the document Ms A.Sz. consented to both operations. At the trial, three physicians testified that within seventeen minutes of her admittance, Ms A.Sz. had received her anaesthetic and both operations had been performed after Ms A.Sz. had been informed of the implications of the sterilisation procedure. However, Ms A.Sz.'s first question to the doctor after she awoke from anaesthetic was how long she had to wait to have another child. Ms A.Sz., who had only a 7th grade education, testified that she did not understand the implications of the document she had signed at the time she signed it. Ms A.Sz. also claimed that she was in a state of shock due to the loss of her baby at the time and had lost a lot of blood. However, during the trial, a handwriting expert established that Ms A.Sz. had been in a conscious state of mind when she signed the consent form. The ERRC is providing legal defense in the case, in conjunction with the Budapest-based Legal Defence Bureau for National and Ethnic Minorities (NEKI).
ERRC field research indicates that sterilisation procedures are routinely offered in Hungary following a second or third caesarean section operation, due to potential complications in subsequent pregnancies. Ms A.Sz. had previously had one caesarean section operation. Ms A.Sz.'s husband was not informed about the procedure, in contravention of Hungarian law. In its verdict, the Fehérgyarmat City Court established that several provisions of the Hungarian law on Health Care had been violated, but that Ms A.Sz.'s signature on the consent form was conclusive evidence of her knowledge of the action. On the basis of this reasoning, the court refused Ms A.Sz.'s claim for damages. At the trial, a sociologist testified that Ms A.Sz.'s ethnic origin had been a deciding factor in her sterilisation, as doctors tend to lump members of ethnic groups together and make decisions for them based on their prejudices and stereotypes. On December 5, 2002, the ERRC and the NEKI filed an appeal with the Nyíregyháza Appeals Court. A first appeal hearing was held on March 20, 2003, although no decision was reached. Further information on the human rights situation of against Roma in Hungary can be found on the ERRC's Internet website at: http://www.errc.org.