Z. v. Finland
European Court of Human Rights
25 February 1997
The applicant’s Mrs.Z. husband had committed rape and eventually was accused of attempted manslaughter as he was infected with HIV. During her husband’s trial the doctors of Mrs.Z were requested to provide evidence as to whether she was too a carrier of HIV and medical documents regarding her state of health were seized. The evidence was included in the case file, which was ruled to be confidential for 10 years. At the end of the proceedings, husband of Mrs.Z was found guilty. The fact that Mrs.Z. was suffering from HIV and her full name was revealed in the judgment and in several articles.
Mrs.Z complained that her right to private life was violated by interrogating her doctors and by seizure of her medical data; by making her medical information confidential for only 10 years; and by putting her full name in the judgment which was later disclosed to journalists.
The Court emphasized that respecting the confidentiality of health data is a vital principle. That regards not only the need to respect the privacy of a patient but also to preserve the patient’s confidence in the medical profession and in the health services in general. That especially regards the highly intimate and sensitive nature of information concerning a person’s HIV status.
- The Court noted that all the actions the applicant was complaining of were in accordance with Finnish law and aimed at protection of the rights of others.
- The Court found that the collection of the applicant’s medical data was necessary for the trial of her husband in order to find out when she learned of her HIV infection and whether her husband might have known about his illness before the rapes. In this regard no violation of Mrs.Z. right to private life was found, as the collection of data was reasonably proportionate.
- However, there were no sufficient reasons, which could override the applicant’s interest in her medical data remaining confidential for a longer period of time. Thus the disclosure of the fact that Mrs.Z was suffering from HIV without her consent after only 10 years was found to be a violation of the applicant’s right to private life.
- Similarly, there were no (sufficient) reasons given why the full name of Mrs.Z. had to be mentioned in the judgments. Consequently, the Court found a violation of the applicant’s right to private life also in this respect.