Table 5: Patient Care and the Right to Life

Examples of Human Rights Violations

  • Due to inadequate reproductive health and prenatal care, complications from pregnancy and childbirth are a leading cause of death for young women.
  • Ambulances fail to arrive at certain communities in a timely manner.
  • Patients are unable to obtain low-cost medications due to bureaucratic hurdles and an overly restrictive patent regime. As a result, their life is in danger.
  • Health services do not include preventive screening for many types of cancer. As a result, patients learn they have cancer when it is already too late for effective treatment.
Human Rights Standards Treaty Body Interpretation
ICESCR 12(1): The States’ Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. CESCR General Comment No. 14(1): Explaining that “Every human being is entitled to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health conducive to living a life in dignity.”
ICCPR 6(1): Every human being has the inherent right to life. This right shall be protected by law. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life. HRC General Comment No. 6 (1 and 5): Explaining that the right to life “should not be interpreted narrowly” or “in a restrictive manner,” and its protection “requires that States adopt positive measures . . . to increase life expectancy.”

HRC [Jurisprudence]: The Committee considered whether the State party had failed in its obligations regarding Articles 6 and 2 of the Covenant in connection with the death of the author‘s son as a result of inadequate medical treatment. The Committee found that there was insufficient evidence before it to attribute direct responsibility to the State for failure to meet its obligation under article 6 of the Covenant. Nevertheless, it found that there had been a breach of the State party‘s obligation under the Covenant to properly investigate the death of the victim and take appropriate action against those responsible, which amounted to a violation of Article 2, paragraph 3, in conjunction with article 6 of the Covenant. Novakovi v. Serbia, Communication No. 1556/2007, CCPR/C/100/D/1556/2007.

Human Rights Standards Case Law
ECHR 2(1): Everyone’s right to life shall be protected by law. No one shall be deprived of his life intentionally save in the execution of a sentence of a court following his conviction of a crime for which this penalty is provided by law. ECtHR: holding that a violation of the right to life occurs “where it is shown that the authorities . . . put an individual’s life at risk through the denial of health care which they have undertaken to make available to the population generally.” Cyprus v. Turkey, 25781/94 (May 10, 2001), para. 219. See also, Nitecki v. Poland, 65653/01 (March 21, 2002) (stating same principle of law).

ECtHR: The applicants’ son, who sought medical assistance for nausea and itching skin, died in hospital after he was injected with drugs to which he was allergic. The applicants complained that their son died because of medical negligence and that there had been no effective investigation into his death. The Court found that “the domestic authorities failed to deal with the applicants’ claim arising out of their son’s death with the level of diligence required by Article 2,” finding that its procedural aspects had been violated. Silih v. Slovenia, 71463/01 (April 9, 2009).

ECtHR: “The Grand Chamber . . . finds that the embryos created by the applicant and J. do not have a right to life within the meaning of Article 2 of the Convention . . . .”  Evans v. United Kingdom, 6339/05 (April 10, 2007).

Other Interpretations 

Colombia: The Colombian Constitutional Court established that “the right to health was enforceable when it was inextricably related to enabling a life of dignity – and not merely preventing imminent death” and on this doctrine has ordered antiretroviral and cancer medications, financing treatment abroad for acute leukemia, treatment of severe depression, post-mastectomy breast implants, administration of growth hormones, and care for severe vision problems.