October 1, 2022

UK Down syndrome woman protected from sterilization

There is a growing push for greater rights for Down syndrome people – in particular that they be fully protected from forced sterilisation. A landmark ruling by a UK court may have brought this goal one step closer.

There is a growing push for greater rights for Down syndrome people – in particular that they be fully protected from forced sterilisation. A landmark ruling by a UK court may have brought this goal one step closer.

The London Court of Protection has ruled that a “tactile” and “affectionate” 21-year-old woman with Down syndrome could not be sterilized as her parents have requested. In a case that has attracted national attention, Justice Cobb found that, though the girl was “unable to weigh up options for herself”, she was not in danger of conceiving, and so sterilisation would be “disproportionate” to the situation.

The judge acknowledged that the case involved significant human rights issues, though his primary consideration was circumstantial – there was no evidence that the woman was seeking a sexual relationship.

The parents of the woman found a specialist who agreed that the girl should be sterilized. But when a matron with special responsibility for vulnerable adults learned of their plans, the matter was referred for a second opinion. The second doctor disagreed and suggested various methods of contraception as an alterative. The case ended in the courts.

The judge stated that he had “sought to achieve the right balance between protection and empowerment”. Over the past two decades a number of disabled rights groups have been started, with campaigning against forced sterilization as one of their main activities. 

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