UK woman could be forcibly sterilised

A secret UK court is studying whether it should authorise the compulsory sterilisation of a 21-year-old woman. The woman, who is called P in the court records, is intellectually disabled and is pregnant with her second child. Her mother, Mrs P pleaded with the Court of Protection this week to authorise a tubal ligation.

"I want the best for my daughter," she testified at a rare public hearing. "We are supporting and helping her, bringing up her children and keeping them together as family unit. Obviously we can't carry on supporting more and more children. She doesn't see anything wrong in her behaviour". After the second child P will have "a complete family" – a girl and a boy – , said Mrs P. She plans to keep them together.

But she fears that her daughter will soon become pregnant again and that the child will be adopted out – something beyond P’s comprehension which will hurt her enormously.

Mr Justice Hedley adjourned the case for a preliminary hearing in April, with a full hearing in May, to give him time to seek expert evidence.

The court of protection was established four years ago, to adjudicate matters involving individuals judged by psychiatrists to lack mental capacity. Its hearings are normally private It has the power to compel compliance to financial, medical and personal procedures which it finds are in the best interest of the individuals involved. The last case of compulsory sterilsation took place in 2003.

Last month the court ordered a 41-year-old man not to have anal sex because he could not understand the health complications. Most cases involve decisions about withdrawing intravenous food from patients in a permanent vegetative state.

David Congdon, of the disability charity Mencap, told the Independent that compulsory sterilisation was “awful and unacceptable” but rare in modern times. “It is a gross invasion of someone’s basic rights unless there are clear medical grounds and there do not appear to be in this case. Using sterilisation as a form of contraception is totally unacceptable.”

The case has attracted a surprising amount of attention. Bioethicist George Annas, of Boston University, commented: "This is eugenics if they are doing this because she's mentally disabled. This decision needs to be made based on the person's best interests, not the best interests of society or her caregivers." ~ Independent, Feb 14; Guardian, Feb 15; Washington Post, Feb 15

MORE ON THESE TOPICS | disability, eugenics, sterilization

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