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El Salvador: UN rights experts appeal to government to provide life-saving treatment to woman at risk

An appeal to save a life

26 April 2013

GENEVA (26 April 2013) – A group of United Nations independent human rights experts* today called on the government of El Salvador to provide life-saving treatment to a 22 year old woman who has been diagnosed of high risk of pregnancy-related death.

Beatriz (surname withheld to protect her identity) suffers from a series of health problems that put her life at risk while she is pregnant, and is in urgent need of medical treatment to terminate her pregnancy and save her life. However, the necessary procedures not been undertaken because abortion is prohibited under any circumstances in El Salvador, according to Article No. 133 of the Penal Code.

“We urge the Government of El Salvador to take all necessary measures to ensure the protection and full enjoyment of the right to life, and to the highest attainable standard of health for Beatriz, in accordance with international human rights law,” said the UN experts on right to health, torture, and violence and discrimination against women, Anand Grover, Juan E. Méndez, Rashida Manjoo and Kamala Chandrakirana.

This diagnosis of Beatriz’s condition was issued by the authorities of the Specialized National Maternity Hospital in San Salvador in March, and reiterated by the National Bioethics Commission of El Salvador (CNBES) through a statement last Tuesday. Furthermore, it has been confirmed that her foetus is anencephalic and with no extra-uterine viability.

“This situation of uncertainty has increased the suffering of Beatriz as she is aware of the health conditions of the foetus and the risk of death she faces, and is forced to go through a cruel, inhumane and degrading situation,” the independent experts stressed.

“This case exemplifies the urgent need to launch a national dialogue on abortion legislation, in order to consider the introduction of exceptions to its general prohibition, especially in cases of therapeutic abortion and pregnancy resulting from rape or incest,” they underscored.

An application for appeal (amparo) has been filed to the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court, to ensure that health professionals are able to provide the treatment Beatriz needs without fear of criminal prosecution against them, or the patient. The decision is still pending.

(*) Anand Grover, Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health; Juan E. Méndez, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; Rashida Manjoo, Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences; and Kamala Chandrakirana, Chairperson of the Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice.

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