Post-traumatic stress disorder, human rights and access to healthcare: an analysis of judgments of the European Court of Human Rights from an ethical perspective

European Journal of Psychotraumatology

Marcin Orzechowski, Moritz E. Wigand, Marianne Nowak, Thomas Becker & Florian Steger

https://doi.org/10.1080/20008198.2021.1930704

Abstract

Background: Human rights violations such as torture are associated with a high risk of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The judgements of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) include a normative perspective on PTSD and address central ethical questions.

Objective: To help bridge the gap between the psycho-medical and the legal discourse on human rights violations and to illustrate their medico-ethical implications by systematically assessing and categorizing all judgements by the ECtHR dealing with PTSD.

Method: The ECtHR database was searched for ‘post-traumatic stress disorder’. A descriptive statistic was performed on the Articles of the European Convention on Human Rights involved and violations to these articles. In a qualitative analysis, the judgements were thematically grouped.

Results: The search yielded n = 103 judgements, of which n = 90 were included. There were mostly violations of Article 3 (prohibition of torture), Article 8 (Right to respect for private and family life) and Article 6 (Right to a fair trial). PTSD in these judgements is normatively discussed with regards to ethical, social and political themes such as inadequate access to healthcare, especially in prison, matters of asylum, expulsion and extradition, protection of minorities and minors, as well as rights and duties of traumatized witnesses.

Conclusion: PTSD plays a central role in a large number of ECtHR judgements. Our results show that PTSD as a medical diagnosis also encompasses legal, ethical, social, and political dimensions. This knowledge is essential for healthcare professionals working with traumatized persons, but can also be relevant for political decision-makers.

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