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ECtHR says sterilisation not in line with the Convention | Council of Europe

The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) issued on 10 March 2015 a judgment dealing with the prerequisite of sterility of a trans person and the denial by the Turkish authorities to authorise gender reassignment surgery.

The case at stake dealt with the refusal by the Turkish authorities to grant the authorisation to undergo surgery on the grounds that the trans person was not permanently unable to procreate. Gender conversion treatment is a condition for legal gender reassignment, so that the refusal de facto had an impact also on the recognition of the perceived gender under the law (see para. 26.

The Second Section reaffirmed that the freedom to establish one’s gender is an essential part of the right to self-determination, protected under Article 8 – Right to respect for private and family life of the Convention [ECHR website]. The Court took the view that the principle of respect for the applicant’s physical integrity precluded any obligation for him to undergo treatment aimed at permanent sterilisation.

The content of para. 121 is the key element in the judgment:

"La Cour estime en effet que [l’incapacité définitive de procréer comme exigence préalable à une autorisation de changement de sexe] n’apparaît aucunement nécessaire au regard des arguments avancés par le Gouvernement pour justifier l’encadrement des opérations de changement de sexe (paragraphes 74 et 75). En conséquence, à supposer même que le rejet de la demande initiale du requérant tendant à accéder à la chirurgie de changement de sexe reposait sur un motif pertinent, la Cour estime qu’il ne saurait être considéré comme fondé sur un motif suffisant. L’ingérence qui en résultât dans le droit du requérant au respect de sa vie privée ne saurait donc passer pour avoir été « nécessaire » dans une société démocratique."

Even assuming that the State refusal to authorisation was based an a relevant ground – says the Second Section – it was not based on a sufficient ground. The interference with the applicant’s right to respect for his private life therefore could not be considered “necessary” in a democratic society.

Although the decision was handed down by a unanimous court, two concurring opinions by four judges hint to the fact that the judgment should be given a narrow interpretation focussing on requirements to authorise surgery, not to grant legal gender recognition. Keller and Spano’s view suggests that such question should have been tackled by the Court, whereas Lemmens and Kūris seem to leave room to a (remote) possibility of justifying sterilisation under other grounds than those put forward by the Turkish Government.

Sterilisation as a prerequisite is a contentious issue worldwide. Cases before the Court of Justice of the EU and the ECtHR have so far involved only pre- or post-operative trans persons. A case currently pending before the Italian Constitutional Court aims at proscribing the predominant judicial interpretation of the 1982 statutory law, which imposes permanent and irreversible sterility as a prerequisite for amending the birth certificate and reassigning the name.

The judgment [HUDOC database] is available only in French. See the official press release [ECHR website] in English.

European Court of Human Rights, Y.Y. v. Turkey, no 14793/08, 10 March 2015

Alexander Schuster

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