Nicaragua: 'Amalia' case- a 'human rights scandal'

Amnesty International has criticised Nicaragua’s law which bans abortion in all circumstances after it has been revealed that cancer treatment for a pregnant woman is currently being withheld for fear that it may harm the foetus.

“Amalia” (not her real name), 27, is ten weeks pregnant and was diagnosed with cancer on 2 February which may have already spread to her brain, lungs and breasts.

Current Nicaraguan law is placing doctors at risk of prosecution if in providing cancer treatment to Amalia they cause harm to the foetus, even if the harm is caused unintentionally.

Amnesty International’s Central America Researcher Esther Major said:

“It is shocking that Nicaragua would deny a cancer patient potentially life saving treatment because she is pregnant. Amalia’s situation reveals the impact of this law and demonstrates the urgent need to repeal this draconian ban which prevents the delivery of timely care and impedes sound medical judgment.

“Each day is critical for Amalia’s chances of survival and the Nicaraguan authorities must take immediate steps to provide her the full range of health care appropriate to treat her cancer.”

Doctors treating “Amalia” have refused to use radiotherapy and chemotherapy because they fear prosecution.

The 27-year-old woman is also the sole carer for her 10-year-old daughter. In December 2009 she sought treatment in a local clinic for breathing problems, fever, nausea and fainting. She was referred to a hospital for tests, where she has remained since 2 February. Her doctors said she required urgent chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatment but have not initiated these because of a fear of unintentional harm to the foetus.   

Esther Major continued:

“Nicaragua’s ban of therapeutic abortions is a human rights scandal that ridicules medical science and turns the law into a weapon against the provision of essential medical care to pregnant Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights and girls.”

In 2006, prior to the ban on abortion introduced, 21 Nicaraguan medical associations from across the spectrum of medical disciplines issued a joint public statement against the proposed total ban on abortion, with an explicit warning that health professionals’ ability to provide health care and practise their profession would be limited if the prohibition was passed.

On 18 February Nicaraguan NGOs and the largest professional gynaecological association in Nicaragua asked the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to request "special measures," which would require the government to fulfil its legal obligations to protect Amalia’s right to life and health, and ensure she is immediately provided with treatment which could save, or at least prolong, her life.

Earlier this month 11 UN member states called on Nicaragua to amend its laws on abortion, after a rise in maternal deaths and rape victims being compelled to carry pregnancies to term since the laws’ introduction.

Esther Major added:

“Nicaragua's total ban on abortion is unlawful and the Nicaraguan government has also ignored the calls for the law criminalising abortion to be repealed by four United Nations expert treaty bodies, including the Committee Against Torture.

"A legal challenge to the constitutional basis for the law has also been before the constitutional section of the Supreme Court for over year. Amnesty International is appalled at the Nicaraguan government's refusal to respond to the pleas to change this cruel law.”

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