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The current COVID-19 pandemic is creating extreme constraints on health care systems in all member States. The increasing number of severely ill patients raises major ethical challenges that professionals and competent authorities have to address. Difficult decisions have to be taken concerning the society as a collective, and within the health care at an individual level. It is essential that such decisions meet the fundamental requirement of respect for human dignity and that human rights are upheld to ensure that these situations do not increase existing vulnerabilities and do not lead to discrimination in the access to healthcare.

Council of europe organs and bodies

Secretary General 

Committee of Ministers

Parliamentary Assembly

European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR)

Congress of local and regional authorities

Commissioner for Human Rights

Conference of INGOs 

Directorate General Human Rights and Rule of Law

Oviedo Convention

The Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine (the Oviedo Convention) is the only legally binding instrument at an international level addressing human rights in the field of biology and medicine. Building on the European Convention on Human Rights, it develops its principles relevant to the biomedical field. It thus provides a unique human rights legal framework to guide decisions and practices both in the clinical context and in the research field.

The principles and provisions in the Oviedo Convention reflect and reinforce the fundamental and indissociable link between human rights, solidarity and responsibility which is essential in addressing the current crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

European Convention on Human Rights

In the framework of the European Convention on Human Rights, member States are committed to protecting in law everyone’s right to life (Art 2) which has to be done in a manner without discrimination (Art 14). To this end, even in a time of public health emergency, it is not possible to derogate from the commitment to protecting the right to life (Art 15). Equally relevant is the right to respect for a person’s private life, which encompasses the right to protection of personal data, including health-related data (Art. 8). Even though there may be interferences with the exercise of this right in the interest of protecting public health, any such interference has to be in line with the principle of proportionality and must be limited to the strictly necessary.

European Social Charter

In the framework of the European Social Charter, member States are committed to the right to protection of health, including to prevent as far as possible epidemic, endemic and other diseases (Art 11).