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G.N. v Italy

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Last updated 1st December 2011.

There was discrimination contrary to Article 14 of the European Convention of Human Rights where the Italian Government unjustifiably made different arrangements for those with one type of genetic disease (haemophilia) compared with another (thalassemia). Both groups had been given infected blood transfusions, and a compensation settlement was made with the first but not the second.

European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), 2009. Application no. 43134/05. The full judgment on the Hudoc database is available in French (and Italian) but not English. There is a Press Release in English (echr.coe.int).


The case concerned claims against the Italian Ministry of Health in relation to people who had contracted HIV or hepatitis C as a result of infected blood transfusions. The Ministry made an out of court compensation settlement with haemophiliacs (or their heirs) who had been infected by transfusions, but not with people with thalassaemia who had been infected in this way. This case was brought by relatives (mainly) of those with thalassaemia. Both haemophilia and thalassemia are blood disorders of genetic origin, obliging the person to receive blood or blood products.

ECtHR decision

Held by the European Court of Human Rights: there was discrimination in breach of Article 14 of the European Convention of Human Rights in conjunction with Article 2 (right to life). The court also held there was a breach of Article 2 itself – this summary does not deal with that.

Genetic condition fell within Article 14 (non-discrimination)

Article 14 does not mention state of health, genetic characteristics or disabilities among the prohibited grounds of discrimination. However its list (sex, race etc) is not exhaustive – it includes “or other status”. The court pointed out that Article 14 has been held to include disability (Glor). Moreover, said the court, the possibility of genetic characteristics being a factor of prohibited discrimination was confirmed by sources external to the European Convention on Human Rights, such as Article 21 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. The court considered that differential treatment based on a genetic disease could fall within Article 14 of the European Convention.

No justification

Looking at whether there was an objective and reasonable basis here for the difference in treatment based on type of disease, the court decided that the Italian government had not provided convincing arguments to justify its choice. There was discrimination in breach of Article 14, in conjunction with Article 2

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