Politics & Law

Danish Court Rules Against Woman Denied Sufficient Vegan Meals in Hospital While Pregnant

A Danish district court in the town of Hillerød has ruled that the administrative unit overseeing hospitals in the region did not discriminate against a pregnant woman when they failed to offer her adequate vegan meals.

With the help of the Vegetarian Society of Denmark, Mette Rasmussen decided to file a lawsuit after the hospital she was admitted to during her pregnancy in 2020 did not provide full vegan meals. Instead, she was given side dishes such as plain rice, baked carrots, and celery. This led her to leave the hospital early after giving birth, as she was worried she would not get adequate nutrition for breastfeeding. As a result of this experience, she chose a home birth for her second child to avoid going into hospital again.

Despite this, the district court said the hospital had not been discriminatory because it had provided vegan food, adding that Rasmussen could have brought her own meals or asked relatives to bring food in. The judgment also argued that there was a 7-Eleven store on the hospital grounds where she could have purchased food.

“User fee for vegans”

However, the Vegetarian Society of Denmark said this was “clear discrimination”, noting that patients who were bedridden or did not have family nearby would be unable to source additional food. It also pointed out that buying food from elsewhere was an unfair extra expense, effectively constituting a “user fee for hospitalized vegans”.

Image courtesy of the Vegetarian Society of Denmark

“Of course, public institutions must not discriminate against citizens on the basis of their ethical beliefs. And we think that is clearly the case when in a hospital there are 14 meat dishes and no vegan dishes, but only side dishes,” said Rune-Christoffer Dragsdahl, The Danish Vegetarian Association’s general secretary. “We continue to fight on behalf of all the country’s vegetarians and vegans, and we continue the fight so that everyone can get nutritious and filling plant-based meals in public kitchens.”

The court pointed out that Rasmussen’s hospitalizations were short-term, but it is not clear whether the outcome of the case would have been different for a long-term stay. Furthermore, the Vegetarian Society of Denmark claims to have many examples of patients who were denied vegan meals during longer hospital visits. Rasmussen believes she would have become “decidedly underweight from malnutrition and a lack of calories” if she had needed to stay longer.

Protected belief

The Vegetarian Society of Denmark, Rasmussen, and their lawyer are now considering whether to appeal the verdict to the high court. It comes after the society successfully brought a case against a municipality in the city of Hjorring, after a kindergarten denied plant-based meals to a small child and also refused to allow her to bring a packed lunch. In this instance, the court agreed that the child and her parents had been discriminated against, as they were prevented from practicing their way of living. It confirmed that veganism is a protected belief under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

“It goes against all recommendations to let sick people live on side dishes during their hospitalizations”

Similar cases have been brought elsewhere in the world; in 2020, Jordi Casamitjana won an employment tribunal in the UK after being dismissed from his job for objecting to the investment of his pension funds in companies that test on animals. The judge ruled that ethical veganism satisfies the requisites to qualify as a philosophical belief and is protected under the Equality Act 2010. In the aftermath of the ruling, many UK employers amended their policies to avoid discriminating against vegan employees. This included removing animal-derived materials from uniforms and PPE.

“I honestly cannot understand that all hospital kitchens cannot prepare nutritious vegan dishes that can benefit all patients, since they have an entire menu full of meat dishes,” said Rasmussen. “It goes against all recommendations to let sick people live on side dishes during their hospitalizations. For me, it would be the obvious and easy choice to make a few delicious vegan dishes that everyone can eat. In this case, Hvidovre Hospital does not even follow its own meal policy or dietary guidelines set by the state. I think it’s crazy that they are allowed to do that.”

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