Skip to comments.Woman has abortion against will in France, court says no harm done
Posted on 07/08/2004 8:11:48 AM PDT by votelife
A woman whose pregnancy was wrongly terminated in a French hospital has lost her fight at the European Court to enshrine a foetus' right to life. Mrs Thi-Nho Vo went to the court after French courts said the doctor could not be prosecuted for homicide as the foetus did not have the right to life.
She said it had that right under the European Convention on Human Rights.
But the Court of Human Rights ruled against her, and involuntary abortion did not constitute manslaughter.
It's a disgraceful situation
Nuala Scarisbrick, Life
The ruling sets a precedent on the legal status of unborn babies that will be applied across European countries
Campaigners had warned abortion rights could be affected if Mrs Vo won her case.
The UK's Family Planning Association had warned that if Mrs Vo were to win her case, Britain's abortion laws could be invalidated and even the legality of the morning after pill, which stops a fertilised egg implanting in the uterus, could be affected.
But abortion law experts said the court was likely to shy away from telling individual countries what the detail of their abortion laws should be.
In 1991, Mrs Vo, a French national of Vietnamese origin, went to the Hotel-Dieu hospital in Lyons for an examination when she was six months pregnant.
We are pleased that the judges have ruled to reject the applicant's case
Anne Weyman, Family Planning Association On the same day, another woman, Thanh Van Vo, was due to have a coil removed at the same hospital.
The pregnant Mrs Vo, from Bourg-en-Bresse, could not speak French, and was unable to communicate with gynaecologist Francois Golfier.
He mistook her for the other Mrs Vo, and tried to remove a coil, piercing the amniotic sac and making it necessary for a therapeutic abortion to be carried out.
Dr Golfier was charged with unintentional homicide, the French equivalent of involuntary homicide.
He was acquitted of the charge, but convicted on appeal and sentenced to six months in prison and fined 10,000 francs.
But Dr Golfier then appealed to the court of cassation - France's highest court - which overturned the ruling on the grounds that the foetus was not a human being and not entitled to the protection of criminal law.
Mrs Vo argued that the foetus is protected by article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which guarantees a right to life.
Anne Weyman, chief executive of the Family Planning Association, said: "This was obviously a tragic individual case but we are pleased that the judges have ruled to reject the applicant's case to extend the right to life of the foetus under Article 2 of the Convention on Human Rights."
She said the judgement would mean the laws on abortion throughout Europe would not have to change.
But Nuala Scarisbrick of the pro-life charity Life, told BBC News Online: "This is not a surprising decision. But it is a disgusting one. It is morally bankrupt."
"It's a disgraceful situation that a child of that stage, who is perfectly viable, is not given the right to life."
UK law allows an abortion to be carried out after 24 weeks if the child has a disability which means it would be born severely handicapped.
What was it, a bird a plane, a fish, a what?
Could be. He's been up to no good lately.
This was an unfortunate medical error, the primary cause of which was the patient's inability to speak the language of the country she was living in. The doctor wasn't even trying to perform an abortion.
I wondered about that too. But some women don't show much at 6 months, and she was probably prepped by a nurse, with whom the patient also couldn't communicate. By the time the doctor saw her, she was probably lying on one of those stirrup-beds, with a sheet covering her abdomen. The doctor was probably handed a chart with information on the other Mrs. Vo, and what procedure he was supposed to do on her. He probably tried to communicate with her, and wasn't able to get much more out of her than that she was "Mrs. Vo". It wouldn't have been very far into such a procedure that the damage would have been done.
Perhaps there was some culpability here, on the nurses' and/or the doctor's part, for failure to observe all administrative procedures for identifying patients -- or perhaps not, if they asked the patient, Thi-Nho Vo, if her full name was "Thanh Van Vo" and in her general non-comprehension of French, or their less than fluent pronunciation of Vietnamese, she nodded affirmatively. But there certainly was no homicide here. It seems clear that she didn't speak enough French that they could have gleaned from her whether she was in fact there to have a coil removed. If they'd refused to treat her because she didn't speak French, she'd probably have sued them for that.
The moral of this sad story is that people need to learn the language of whaever country they're living in, and if they're just travelling through, or have just arrived, they need to be prepared to provide an interpreter or risk suffering serious consequences due to misunderstandings.
I don't want any U.S. doctors facing homicide charges because some non-English speaker shows up at an emergency room in pain and pointing to her mid-section, but can't explain that she's pregnant and feels as if she may be starting to miscarry, and the doctor can't figure out what's going on until it's too late.
I don't want any U.S. doctors facing homicide charges because some non- English speaker shows up at an emergency room in pain and pointing to her mid-section, but can't explain that she's pregnant and feels as if she may be starting to miscarry, and the doctor can't figure out what's going on until it's too late.
That's not what happened at all. The woman was there for a scheduled exam, not some emergency. The doctor who was to remove the other woman's coil, came into the waiting room and called out the name, Mrs. Vo, and the wrong Mrs. Vo then followed him. He tried to talk to her, noticed that she didn't speak much French, read her file (the wrong file), then proceeded to attempt removal of a nonexistent coil without even examining her beforehand. After he pierced her amniotic sac, oops, he examined her, noticed that she looked pregnant, and finally the mistaken identity was realized. She was then admitted to the hospital because she had lost so much amniotic fluid. The doctor was a complete idiot. Even worse, the next day, the hospital almost performed the other Mrs.Vo's surgery on the pregnant Mrs. Vo by mistake. Luckily the anesthetist recognized her. Dumbshits all around.
Any idea what a coil is?
"Ooops -- I just murdered your child!...
...Good thing it wasn't a dolphin, or I'd really be in trouble."
Spell check is my friend, but not the cure. except = accept
Note: as the newest Bush ad says, John Kerry voted against the Laci (and Conner) Peterson Act, which would have increased penalties against people who deliberately, criminally kill unborn children against the mothers' will.
There may well have been a lot of incompetence involved -- aggravated by the fact that the patient couldn't speak or understand French, and thus couldn't understand what was being said by the doctors and nurses attending her. But incompetence isn't homicide.
I don't know much about France's health care system, but given that this is the country with the nutty 35-hour work week limit, I assume it's some sort of socialist monstrosity. Incompetence is certainly the norm in the UK's socialist health care system, and it probably is in France's as well. But in fairness to the unfortunate professionals who have to work in these systems, the systems can overwhelm even competent doctors and nurses, and that may well be what happened in this case.
Just to play devil's advocate. The point pro-choicers would make is that she did have a choice and it was to have the baby. They aren't going to protest that because they would say that aren't opposed to anyone choosing to have a baby. Where her choice was removed was when the state doctor over-rode her decision and accidentally/incompetently killed her child. If you don't like the state making that decision one way for you, how can you accept them making a decision the other way? They don't need to protest when others are already doing it.
I'm a doctor and in the ER it's basically standard practice to order a urine pregnacy test immediately (it's quick) if the woman is between 12-55 basically. Sounds like this was not done.
That being said, this does not sound like an emergency treatment, that there was time to get a pregnancy test.
Whatever happened to the role of legislatures in creating laws? Have they permanently abdicated to judges? Rise up, rise up.
Presumably no pregnancy test was done. But this was not an ER situation. This was a situation where the doctor reasonably believed he was dealing with a patient who had made an appointment to have a uterine coil removed (and probably been seen by a doctor shortly before, as a prelude to scheduling the procedure). When a patient has been scheduled for an appendectomy, and is wheeled into the operating room, the surgeon doesn't start running pregnancy or other tests -- s/he assumes those things have already been done, and that relevant results have been noted on the patient's chart.
I'm not in a position to say that the doctor in this case (and the nurses) didn't do anything wrong at all. But charging the doctor with homicide is over the top. Imagine if a doctor administers a drug to a patient who is unable to communicate well, after reviewing what he has been told is that patient's chart for history of allergic drug reactions, and after confirming the patient's name with the patient as best he can. The patient dies of an allergic reaction, and it is later discovered that the wrong chart had been given to the doctor, and that the chart of the similarly named patient to whom he administered the drug noted a previous severe reaction to the drug. Should that doctor really be charged with homicide?
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