V.C. v. Slovakia | 2011

Forced sterilisation of Roma woman leads to stricter rules on consent to treatment

…sterilisation constitutes a major interference with a person’s reproductive health status.

Judgment of the European Court of Human Rights, November 2011


20-year-old V.C. was rushed to hospital with severe labour pains in 2000. On arrival, she was told that she would have to have her baby by Caesarean section. 

Doctors warned V.C. that she or her baby would die if she were to fall pregnant again. In acute pain, and terrified that her next pregnancy would be fatal, V.C. said: “Do what you want to do.” 

She signed a form, which hospital staff took as her agreeing to undergo sterilisation – even though V.C did not understand what sterilisation meant. 

The procedure was carried out immediately and V.C. was made infertile. 

The words “Patient is of Roma origin” were recorded in V.C.’s medical file. Whilst in hospital, she was placed in a room for Roma women only and was not allowed to use the same toilets as non-Roma patients. 

V.C.’s physical and mental health quickly deteriorated because of her infertility. Her marriage broke down and she was shunned by her community. 

V.C. was shocked to learn that sterilisation is not generally considered as life-saving surgery, and that other Roma women in Slovakia claimed that they had also been forcibly sterilised. Some of these claims went back decades. 

Judgment of the European Court of Human Rights

The European court found that the Slovakian authorities had displayed “gross disregard for [V.C.’s] right to autonomy and choice as a patient”. 

The sterilisation procedure was neither immediately necessary, from a medical point of view, nor did V.C. give her free and informed consent to it. This amounted to ill-treatment. 

Slovakia had also failed to put in place effective safeguards to protect V.C.’s reproductive health as a woman of Roma origin. 

The court awarded V.C. €31,000 in compensation.


Before the European court’s judgment, Slovakia changed the Health Care Act 2004, following the recommendations of an expert group set up to investigate allegedly unlawful sterilisations and segregation of Roma women. 

These changes brought the law into line with international human rights standards on patients’ informed consent to treatment, including the Council of Europe’s Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine. 

Further changes were made to the Health Care Act following a 2011 report from the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights, which included providing samples of written informed consent in the Roma language. 

In 2021, the Commissioner called on the Slovakian Prime Minister to provide redress to victims of forced sterilisations, including access to compensation.


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