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Finland: Access to fertility treatment has to be granted on an equal basis also in public health care – denying service provision due to sexual orientation violated the Non-Discrimination Act

December 20th 2016

According to a ruling by the National Non-Discrimination and Equality Tribunal, assisted reproductive treatment may not be denied in public health care based on the sexual orientation of the client. The ruling shows that existing legal protections provide access to rights. It also ensures that the recommendation issued earlier by the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health will be followed from now on, says the Non-Discrimination Ombudsman Kirsi Pimiä. The Tribunal imposed a conditional fine of 30 000 euro on each of the medical directors of university hospitals to enforce compliance with its injunction.

The Non-Discrimination Ombudsman had requested in November 2015 that the National Non-Discrimination and Equality Tribunal examines a case in which a woman was denied access to assisted reproductive care in public health care because her partner is female. The Tribunal stated in a ruling published today that the doctor who denied the care discriminated the client based on her sexual orientation. The doctor acted on the basis of a guideline issued by the medical directors of university hospitals, denying female couples access to fertility treatment. The Tribunal stated that the guideline constitutes discrimination prohibited in the Non-Discrimination Act.

  • This ruling is important. It carries a binding obligation to all hospital districts and thus improves equal access to rights in this central sphere of life in the whole country. The ruling also helps other victims of discrimination to seek their rights, states the Non-Discrimination Ombudsman Kirsi Pimiä.
  • Until now, female couples have faced disproportionate distress. Their only option to receive safe fertility treatment has been to turn to private service providers, which means that access to treatment has been conditional to the person’s ability to pay, Pimiä says.

The Act on Assisted Reproductive Treatment which took effect in 2007 confirmed the right of female couples and individual women to get treatment. In practice however, no such treatment has so far been given in public health care. The medical directors of university hospitals have argued that there’s a need to prioritize due to insufficient resources.

  • It is unbelievable that the public health care has lived up to the discriminatory guideline by the medical directors against the will of the lawmakers. In addition, the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health as a guiding authority as well as both the National Supervisory Authority for Welfare and Health and the Parliamentary Ombudsman as supervising authorities have interfered several times in the problems in equal access to care. As the constitutional commettee of the parliament has stated, a wish to save money can’t be an argument to abandon equality between people guaranteed in the constitution, Pimiä establishes.

For further information in Finnish, see the Non-Discrimination Ombudsman’s website.

Additional information:

Non-Discrimination Ombudsman Kirsi Pimiä: tel. +358 295 666 809
Senior Officer Pirjo Kruskopf: tel. +358 295 666 802

The task of the Non-Discrimination Ombudsman is to promote equality and to prevent discrimination. The Non-Discrimination Ombudsman is an autonomous and independent authority. You may refer to the Non-Discrimination Ombudsman if you have experienced or observed discrimination on the basis of age, origin, nationality, language, religion, belief, opinion, political activity, trade union activity, family relationships, state of health, disability, sexual orientation or other personal characteristics.

The National Non-Discrimination and Equality Tribunal is an impartial and independent judicial body appointed by the Government. The Tribunal supervises compliance with the Non-Discrimination Act and the Act on Equality between Women and Men (Equality Act) both in private activities and in public administrative and commercial activities. The function of the Tribunal is to give legal protection to those who consider they have been discriminated against or victimised.