Press Release

IACHR Welcomes Progress in the Protection of Older Persons and their Right to Health

July 18, 2018

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Washington, D.C. – The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) welcomes recent progress in the protection of older persons, based on decisions made by the IACHR and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in the case Poblete Vilches et al. vs. Chile. Such decisions developed important standards regarding the rights of older persons in terms of health and informed consent.

This case refers to the international responsibility of the Chilean State for the medical attention given, between January 17 to February 7 of 2001, to Mr. Poblete Vilches, who was an older person, and who was subjected to surgery at a public hospital while he was unconscious, without informed consent from either himself or his family members, and died at that institution as a result of the operation.

On August 27, 2016, the IACHR took the case before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, arguing that it brought up relevant issues linked to the obligations regarding informed consent held in the American Convention and to the State responsibility for an inadequate healthcare provision in public hospitals. In its merits report, the Commission concluded that the lack of adequate medical care can lead to violations of the rights to health, life and personal integrity, and that healthcare services must satisfy the principles of availability, accessibility, acceptability and quality. Further, the IACHR highlighted the importance of addressing the State’s responsibility for the structural deficiencies of public hospitals.

The IACHR’s Unit on the Rights of Older Persons believes the decision made by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, published on June 8, 2018, to be symbolically significant: it recognizes, for the first time, older persons’ right to increased protection that must be provided in the form of differentiated measures. Further, the Court highlighted “the importance of increasing the visibility of older persons as subjects of rights who enjoy special protection, and who therefore need comprehensive care, with due respect for their autonomy and independence.” The Court noted that States have an “obligation to provide the efficient and continued healthcare they need.” The IACHR’s Special Rapporteurship on Economic, Social, Cultural and Environmental Rights highlighted that, in order to adequately and effectively consolidate Inter-American standards on the issue, it is important for both bodies of the Inter-American Human Rights System to keep strengthening the autonomous legal enforceability of economic, social, cultural and environmental rights. In particular, the Special Rapporteurship stressed that, given the complex interpretation of Article 26 of the American Convention, it is necessary to use uniform and consistent interpretation criteria, with a view to further developing States’ obligations in this matter and their scope of those obligations, to defining more accurately the rights and contents protected by that standard, and to granting specific treatment in reparations when one of those rights has been violated.

Commissioner Flavia Piovesan, in charge of the Unit on the Rights of Older Persons, noted that “the decisions made by the bodies of the Inter-American System entail major progress towards protecting older persons and towards enforcing their effective rights to health and to informed consent, as well as their right not to be discriminated against in public or private healthcare institutions.” Along similar lines, Soledad García Muñoz, the IACHR’s Special Rapporteur on Economic, Social, Cultural and Environmental Rights, said: “Recognition of older persons as special subjects of rights—from the perspective of prevention and the promotion of health—and recognition of the need for society to get involved in ensuring their standard of living are both extremely positive.” The IACHR deems it most important for the Inter-American Court to have acknowledged, for the first time, the right to health as an autonomous right enshrined in Article 26 of the American Convention, which assigns to States both immediate and gradual obligations. The Commission regards this as an important step to ensure the effective and continued protection of the health of older persons.

The Special Rapporteurship on Economic, Social, Cultural and Environmental Rights was especially created to brace the IACHR’s compliance with its mandate of promoting and protecting such rights in the Americas.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for and to defend human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 154/18