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   Case summaries      Vo v France 53924/00

Vo v France - 53924/00 [2004] ECHR 326   European Court of Human Rights  - Grand Chamber

The applicant, Mrs Vo who was 6 months pregnant, went for a medical examination in hospital on the same day as another Mrs Vo was due to have a contraceptive coil removed. The hospital mixed up the two and the doctor pierced the amniotic sac of the applicant. She was immediately admitted to hospital. The hospital then attempted to remove the coil from the other Mrs Vo. This proved problematic and she was admitted to hospital to have the procedure done under general anaesthetic. Another mix up occurred and the applicant was wheeled down to the operating theatre but escaped surgery when the anaesthetist recognised the mix up. She was discharged from the hospital but then returned four days later when the pregnancy had to be terminated. The  applicant brought an action in the national court for unintentional homicide of the foetus. Medical evidence found that the foetus was 20-21 weeks old, weighed 375g, was 28 inches long, had not breathed after birth. The question for the court was whether the foetus amounted to a human being and given protection by Art 2 European Convention of Human Rights.


No violation of Art 2 ECHR.

"At European level, the Court observes that there is no consensus on the nature and status of the embryo and/or foetus (see paragraphs 39 and 40 above), although they are beginning to receive some protection in the light of scientific progress and the potential consequences of research into genetic engineering, medically assisted procreation or embryo experimentation. At best, it may be regarded as common ground between States that the embryo/foetus belongs to the human race. The potentiality of that being and its capacity to become a person – enjoying protection under the civil law, moreover, in many States, such as France, in the context of inheritance and gifts, and also in the United Kingdom (see paragraph 72 above) – require protection in the name of human dignity, without making it a “person” with the “right to life” for the purposes of Article 2. The Oviedo Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine, indeed, is careful not to give a definition of the term “everyone” and its explanatory report indicates that, in the absence of a unanimous agreement on the definition, the member States decided to allow domestic law to provide clarifications for the purposes of the application of that Convention"

Back to lecture outline on Art 2 ECHR