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Is the European Court for Human Rights in favour of eugenics when it comes to people living with Down Syndrome?

Published on 09/01/2012 in Bioethical

Although « European Court for Human Rights » and “Eugenics” should be, by definition, contradictory, a recent judgement revealed that the ECHR is not, in fact, against eugenics. The concern is even greater as another case is awaiting judgement.

Two cases, recently brought in front of the European Court for Human Rights, brought the magistrates of that jurisdiction to think about making decisions which have huge consequences : firstly, because it very concretely involves either denying eugenics or, on the contrary, amplifying the current excesses. Secondly, because the ECHR’s jurisprudence has an impact on all the European countries.

The Kruzmane case against Latvia was carried in front of the ECHR by Anita Kruzmane, a latvian women (read article here). Having given birth to a little girl living with Down Syndrome, she brought a lawsuit against her doctor because she says he did not inform her of the possibilities of prenatal screening tests. Dismissed in her country, Anyta Kruzmane brought her case before the ECHR in the name of “the right to the respect of private and family life.”

The Court is, therefore, potentially called to recognizing the demise of people with Down Syndrome as a human right !

Though ECHR has not yet adjudicated the Kruzmane case, it has just published a decree condemning Italy for its legislation that prevents pre-implantation diagnosis in the case of in vitro fertilization. The decree concerns an Italian couple, healthy carriers of cystic fibrosis. Having already had a child living with that disease, they had chosen to abort their second one after the prenatal screening tests came out positive. They wanted another child but, this time, wanted to use medically assisted procreation followed by pre- implantation diagnosis, which is illegal in Italy.

Considering that their « right for the respect of private and family life » had not been taken into account, they too brought the matter before the ECHR which proved them right and condemned Italy to pay 15000 euros to the couple for moral damage!

The ECHR justified its decision by bringing up the incoherence of the Italian legislative system which says that one cannot implant only the healthy embryos but authorises the abortion of fœtuses suffering from the pathology. Such a condemnation, coming from the ECHR, is the same as pressurising Italy into legalizing pre-implantation diagnosis, i.e., legalizing eugenics.

Last Spring, about 30 associations, amongst which the Foundation Jérôme Lejeune, launched the “Stop Eugenics Now!” international mobilization. They also organized a round table on Eugenics at the European Council on June, 28th. At the end of this round table, which brought together over 100 people, an anti-eugenics resolution was submitted to the European council (see below). But the condemnation against Italy proves the international mobilization still needs to be accentuated.

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