Gypsy women launch claim following sterilisation

BMJ 2005; 330 doi: (Published 03 February 2005) Cite this as: BMJ 2005;330:275
  1. Katka Kosner
  1. Prague

    Gypsy women in the Czech Republic who claim they were coerced into being sterilised by doctors are to launch the first claims for damages with courts this month.

    Jiri Lifka, a legal adviser with the Czech ombudsman's office, said that 61 complaints from women claiming they were forced to have sterilisation have been lodged with his office in recent months.

    “The cases go back to the 1970s and up to 2004,” he told the BMJ, adding that all but two complaints were lodged by Gypsy women.

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    Helena Ferencikova, shown here with her family, claims to have been sterilised against her wishes

    “We are still investigating, but if we believe there is a criminal case to be answered we could refer this to the state prosecutor, who could decide to bring charges,” he added.

    The first civil court action is to be lodged by Helena Ferencikova, who was 19 at the time she was sterilised in 2001 after giving birth to her second son at the Vitkovice Blahoslavene Marie Antoniny Hospital in Ostrava.

    In her complaint against the hospital, Mrs Ferencikova is seeking 500 000 korunas (£11 520; $21 660; €16 640) in damages.

    “On the morning I gave birth the doctors presented me with a form to sign and told me it was for a sterilisation, which they said I needed immediately for the sake of my health. I didn't understand what it meant, so I asked them to contact my husband. But they didn't, and afterwards I was shocked that I would never have more children,” she told the BMJ.

    Mrs Ferencikova is challenging the hospital's argument that they recommended the procedure because she had had two caesarean sections.

    The hospital's spokeswoman, Eva Kujonkova, insisted that no patient had been forced into being sterilised against her will.

    “The patient in question had already had two caesareans and suffered complications. The doctor involved believed it would have posed a serious risk to her health to give birth again. We believe the hospital acted entirely correctly; the patient agreed with this procedure and signed the consent form,” she told the BMJ.

    Under the communist regime, which ended in 1989, Gypsy women were offered up to 10 000 korunas if they agreed to be sterilised. Mrs Ferencikova's lawyer, Michaela Tomisova, who is representing 25 Gypsy women claiming to have been sterilised against their wishes, says that the practice has continued.

    Last September the health minister, Dr Milada Emmerova, founded a commission to investigate the allegations.

    “It is absolutely untrue that women are currently being persuaded to be sterilised against their wishes,” Vera Carna, a health ministry spokeswoman, told the BMJ. “But we have to investigate these complaints, some of which date back many years,” she said.

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