February 28, 2024

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.

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

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

Michael Cook