The Public Defender’s Statement04 05 2012
On May 3, 2012, the Ministry of Corrections, Probation and Legal Assistance of Georgia posted a statement on its web-site about the death of convict Zurab Delianidze.
The statement says that “the convict was ill with an acute form of a venereal disease” and “on March 7, 2012, convict Z. Delianidze was transferred to Medical Institution for Defendants and Convicts No. 18 with the aim of further treatment and started to undergo a course of intensive treatment, but, unfortunately, on May 1, it ended in a lethal outcome for the patient.”
In accordance with Paragraph 2, Article 41 of the Constitution of Georgia, “The information existing on official papers pertaining to an individual’s health, his/her finances, or other private matters shall not be accessible to anyone without the consent of the individual in question except in the cases determined by law, when it is necessary for ensuring the state security or public safety, for the protection of health, rights, and freedoms of others.”
It is obvious that, with its statement, the Ministry has disseminated information that belonged to the personal secrets of the convict which the Ministry is obliged to protect by the Constitution, which violated the rights of the deceased convict as well as of other persons.
Disclosing and publicizing information about sexually transmitted illnesses constitutes a special case, because this not only violates the lawful interests of the deceased person, but also casts a shadow on the patient’ family members, relatives, and a circle of other persons who remain alive. Accordingly, I consider that this particular fact also includes elements of intervention in the patient’s family and private life, because the category of the diseases that was disclosed by the Ministry of Corrections goes well beyond the issues of health of the person.
The Constitution of Georgia specifies the cases in which information pertaining to a person’s personal secrets can be made public. The Ministry’s argument that there was “a high public interest” in the issue does not constitute a basis of disclosing personal secrets and confirms once more the unlawfulness of disclosing the information, which must be understood well by the competent persons of the Ministry.
Georgia has acceded to the Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine which obliges the signing parties to “protect the dignity and identity of all human beings and guarantee everyone, without discrimination, respect for their integrity and other rights and fundamental freedoms with regard to application of biology and medicine.” According to Article 10 of the Convention, “Everyone has the right to respect for private life in relation to information about his or her health.”
The constitutional safeguards of the protection of personal secrets are fully included in a number of legislative acts regulating the area of health care. Among them, we should mention the rule established by the Law of Georgia on Patients’ Rights according to which only a legally capable patient has the right to decide “whether anyone should receive information about the condition of his/her health.” And Article 27 of the same law unequivocally establishes that “the provider of medical service is obliged to protect the confidentiality of the information at its disposal both in the patient’s lifetime and after his/her death.” The aforementioned requirement of the law was violated grossly by those officials of the Ministry who made the decision to declassify the said information.
Unlawful dissemination of a personal or family secret by a person who was obliged to protect this secret due to his/her position, professional activity, or other circumstances constitutes an act punishable by Part 3 of Article 157 of the Criminal Code of Georgia.
Proceeding from all the aforementioned, I address the relevant law enforcement bodies with a recommendation to launch an investigation into the aforementioned fact and hold the relevant persons criminally responsible. On the other hand, I call on the Minister of Corrections, Probation and Legal Assistance to take relevant measures in order to avoid such violations of rights in the future.