Advancing Right to be Forgotten

May 17, 2024

It is usually a safe bet to say something important should be announced when you see two Commissioners on an event agenda. However, that was not the case for the Cancer Survivorship conference organised this month (14 May) by the European Commission.

‘Cancer Survivorship: advancing the Right to be Forgotten – stocktaking of progress and challenges’ conference was hoping to be able to announce a European Code of Conduct on the Right to be Forgotten.

Instead, it showcased the European Commission’s commitment and hoped for continuous dialogue. Stella Kyriakides, Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, opened the event, and Mairead McGuinness, European Commissioner for Financial Services, Financial Stability and Capital Markets Union, delivered concluding remarks.

The Right to be Forgotten is one of the European Commission’s priorities in the scope of the Beating Cancer Plan. The overall objective is to improve the quality of life for cancer patients, survivors, and carers. Numerous cancer survivors in long-term remission are not able to access financial services in a fair manner. 

According to the data presented, advances in early cancer detection, effective therapies, and supportive care significantly increased survival rates, resulting in more than 12 million persons with a history of cancer living in Europe. However, at DiCE, we are aware that these statistics, unfortunately, in many cases, do not reflect the reality of digestive cancers.

The Right to be Forgotten has gained momentum in recent years, and this initiative hoped to capitalise on it.

Apart from being one of the priority areas of Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan, the Right to be Forgotten was included in the Consumer Credit Directive, which entered into force on 19 November 2023 and, by 2025, should be transposed into national legislation. This created the before-mentioned momentum for possible advocacy to increase the pool of countries where cancer patients are not discriminated against due to their cancer diagnosis.

So far, only a handful of countries (eight) included this in their legislation, with variations in timeframes and requirements.  France was the first to act on the matter and passed a law on the Right to be Forgotten for cancer survivors in January 2016; Belgium followed suit in March 2018. From January 2021, the Netherlands adopted the ‘clean-slate policy’, implementing the Right to be Forgotten, with the Portuguese policymakers adopting the law in January 2022. Romania passed a similar law in July 2022, making it a pioneering country in the CEE region. The most recent EU countries that adopted the law are Spain (July 2023), Cyprus (November 2023), and Italy (December 2023).

One can understand how the mosaic of national legislation might be inconvenient for the financial services sector, which would prefer harmonisation, probably ideally not through legally binding obligations.

The arguments presented during the conference called for different timeperiods depending on different circumstances of health cases and the creation of grids (as is already the case in some countries). Insurance representatives argued that if a ‘one size fits all’ approach were adopted, that would mean an increase in premiums for all customers, and that would be undesirable.

Having listened to the arguments, DiCE wonders whether the aspect of societal solidarity, especially solidarity among fellow cancer patients, has been forgotten.

We believe that this is a matter not only of money (although we should not be naïve) but principle. If one talks about ending discrimination for cancer survivors, it should be about ending discrimination for all. Differentiating between cancer types could create reverse discrimination, where a patient that happens to be diagnosed with a ‘low-risk cancer’, not only has higher chances of survival, but also higher chances of being treated fairly.

In the European Union that prides itself in creating equal opportunities and fighting discrimination in any shape or form, we surely would not like that.

Concluding the conference, Commissioner McGuiness stated:

‘Your health is your wealth, actually. But your ill health should not impact your wealth forever. You do have a right to be forgotten at a certain point.’

We would like that point to be 5 years for all cancer patients across Europe.

Aleksandra Kaczmarek

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