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When Relief of Pain Breaches Human Rights

Human rights law has thrown up some controversial issues over the years, as illustrated by a recent case in which a mother was awarded €25,000 in damages and costs as compensation for her severely disabled son being given the painkiller diamorphine by hospital staff.

The European Court of Human Rights rejected the mother’s claim that the purpose of the injections was to hasten her son’s death and that the injections were a breach of his right under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. This guarantees respect for private life and physical integrity. The court did decide, however, that the hospital’s decision not to seek an application in the court to override the mother’s objections did constitute a breach of Article 8.

This case illustrates the difficulties that can arise for public bodies and Health Authorities in particular as they attempt the balancing act between providing the service they are required to give whilst at the same time keeping on the right side of the law and dealing with financial constraints. In effect, the hospital had to make a compensation payment in this case because its staff failed to follow the correct legal procedure when they were aware that the patient’s next of kin objected to the proposed course of treatment.