Finnish man with intellectual disability asks Strasbourg court: protect my family rights

The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) will hear the case of Arri-Matti Virtanen, a man with an intellectual disability who was forced to move away from his foster family and placed in an institution under the control of a State-appointed guardian. MDAC today submitted legal arguments supporting his right to live with his family.

The European Court of Human Rights, Strasbourg, France. ©

In 2002, Mr. Virtanen was placed into the care of a foster family in Northern Finland, around 50 km away from his home town in the south of the country – where his biological parents had originally abandoned him. In 2007, he was taken back to his home town and placed in an institution for children with disabilities. Upon turning 18, he decided to move back in with his foster parents as he considered them to be his real family. He was not there for long: in 2009 the authorities decided to remove him and place him in an institution in the town where he was born, against his will.

At the request of Finnish authorities, Mr. Virtanen was then placed under the authority of a public guardian, again without his consent – a decision which he attempted to challenge in the courts. At both the local and then appeal courts, judges refused to accept his claim and will to live with his foster family.

Having run out of options in Finland, Mr. Virtanen instructed lawyers to fight for his rights at the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in Strasbourg, France. In the case, he argues that his removal from his foster family, placement in an institution, and then placement under public guardianship fundamentally violates his right to family life.

In its intervention, MDAC underlines that such treatment is in violation of international law, and that it constitutes disability-based discrimination. The legal submission points out that the ”will and preferences” of persons with disabilities should be the deciding factor when courts make decisions which affect the lives of people with disabilities, and not the subjective opinions of third parties about what is in their “best interests”. Refusal to give effect to the autonomy of people with disabilities results in numerous human rights violations, and continues to be a widespread problem in countries which maintain paternalistic guardianship laws such as Finland and numerous other countries across Europe.

Guardianship regimes affect even the most personal aspects of the lives of people with disabilities, including their private lives and where they choose to live. MDAC’s submission to the ECtHR explains that international law now demands a shift away from a charitable approach to dealing with people with disabilities, towards a recognition of them as holders of human rights: “[P]ersonal relationships and one’s choice of a place of residence are an inherent part of a person’s autonomy, independence, dignity and self-development, and are central to a person’s independent living in their wider community.”

MDAC also draws on the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) in the intervention which, among other things, promotes the right to be able to choose where to live. Finland is one of the last countries in the European Union that has yet to ratify the CRPD which is globally recognised as the most authoritative statement of the rights and freedoms of people with disabilities. MDAC calls on the Government of Finland - which has 40,000 people with intellectual disabilities, and 1,749 people under guardianship orders - to ratify the Convention without further delay.

MDAC would like to thank Caoilfhionn Gallagher and Jesse Nicholls from Doughty Street Chambers, London for assisting MDAC with the intervention. 

RSS Find us on facebook MDAC is on Twitter Company profile of MDAC on LinkedIn MDAC youtube channel Google plus close