Chilean Woman Living with HIV Sterilized Without Consent

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Chilean Woman Living with HIV Sterilized Without Consent

Angela Castellanos

After a year of unsuccessful lawsuits, a woman living with HIV and sterilized without her consent filed a complaint against Chile before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

After a year of unsuccessful
private prosecutions and lawsuits before Chilean judicial and health
bodies, a woman living with HIV and sterilized without her consent filed
a complaint against Chile before the Inter-American
Commission on Human Rights

(IACHR) last February 2, charging that the government failed
to protect her from being forcibly sterilized. 

The 27-year-old woman from Hualañé,
Chile, was sterilized at the state hospital of Curicó, immediately
after giving birth in 2002. The woman, living with HIV, stated she was
not asked to authorize such a surgical procedure, nor was the
subject discussed with her, and she expressed the desire to have more children. 

Chilean regulations mandate written consent for sterilizations. The Ministry of Health makes it clear: "In the cases of sterilization during a cesarean, the procedures
of counseling and consent have to be completed and signed prior to
the sterilization."

The young woman submitted a
private prosecution against the hospital of Curicó and a lawsuit before
the Chilean courts of justice, but despite the proofs submitted, neither
the Ministry of Health nor the tribunals found in their investigations
human rights violations.  

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The Chilean woman F.S. (who
prefers to remain anonymous) claims that the hospital staff sterilized her because of her HIV status. Therefore, Vivo Positivo, the Chilean organization which advocates for people living with HIV/AIDS, began working with the Center for Reproductive
, and both
submitted a petition on F.S.’s behalf before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which monitors
the Organization of American States members’ compliance with the American Convention on Human

In the complaint, the Center
for Reproductive Rights and Vivo Positivo argued that the state of Chile
violated the woman’s right to be free from all forms of discrimination, the
right to decide the number and spacing of her children, the right to
be free of violence, and the right to have access to justice. These
rights are guaranteed under the American Convention on Human Rights
and the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and
Eradication of Violence against Women. 

"Despite proof to the
contrary, neither the Ministry of Health nor the Chilean Courts found
that the facts of this case amounted to a violation of F.S.’s human
rights. This denial of justice clearly demonstrates the discrimination
that people living with HIV/AIDS continue to suffer in Chile," said
Vasili Deliyanis, executive director of Vivo Positivo. "The presentation
of this case to an international tribunal provides a prime opportunity
to reinvigorate the discussion on the rights of HIV-positive women in
our country. It also provides an opportunity for the Chilean State to
reestablish the rule of law." 

Through this complaint the
Center and Vivo Positivo "are asking the IACHR to acknowledge human
rights violation, undo the harm done to F.S. and provide her with monetary
compensation; and adopt policies that guarantee women living with HIV
the freedom to make reproductive health decisions without coercion,"
stated the Center’s press release.   

"Forced sterilization
is a violation of a woman’s most basic human rights and is all too often
committed against members of vulnerable groups, which deserve special
protection, such as women living with HIV," said Luisa Cabal, director
of the international program at the Center for Reproductive Rights,
which is a global legal advocacy organization dedicated to advancing
women’s reproductive health, self-determination, and dignity as basic
human rights. "It’s time that the Chilean government respects the
human rights of all its citizens and takes concrete action to guarantee
that a woman living with HIV receives quality reproductive health services
and has the ability to make decisions about her own life."  

Unfortunately, her case is
not the only one. Vivo Positivo and others conducted the study "Chilean Women Living with HIV/AIDS: Sexual and Reproductive Rights?" which revealed pressures on women to get sterilized and found that women have even been sterilized
without consent. 

The research included a comprehensive
questionnaire, which included an index of pressures. Women were asked if they had been pressured "to change your sexual habits," "to use contraception methods,"
"to use the same contraception method," and "to get a sterilization." Analysis found that 50% of respondents hadn’t been pressured, 35%
had been somewhat and 15% had been strongly pressured. Therefore, the study concluded
that in a significant proportion of cases counseling promotes the idea that
women with HIV should not become pregnant.  

The study found that 80% of
women who have been sterilized obtained this surgery after having being informed of their HIV status. The questionnaire also shows a decreasing
practice of sterilizations on women living with HIV-AIDS from 2000.
This could be linked with the resolution mandating written, informed consent, issued in 2000, and signed
by the current President Michelle Bachelet and Ministry of Health at
this year. 

Yet nearly a third — 29% — of those who were
sterilized said they had been pressured by medical staff to do so and
10% of the sterilizations were performed without their consent. Moreover,
young women are the majority in both cases, this is to say, women starting
their reproductive lives. 

In Chile, the mother-to-child
transmission of HIV has a 1.8% probability, as long as the woman receives anti-retroviral therapy. HIV experts also recommend cesarean delivery to diminish
the contagious risk and that mothers living with HIV avoid breastfeeding.