Mother’s legal plea to sterilise her daughter remains unresolved

Guardian
15.02.2011
By Karen McVeigh

Judge rules court has not enough evidence to decide on operation for 21-year-old who is about to give birth

The mother of a young woman with learning difficulties who is pregnant with her second child broke down in tears as she pleaded with a high court judge to allow her daughter to be forcibly sterilised for her own protection.

The mother, known as Mrs P, told the judge that while she and her family supported her daughter, 21, and helped bring up her children, they could not make a commitment to any future babies.

Her daughter does not understand that if she falls pregnant again, the child would be taken from her and she would never see him or her again, she said.

Her daughter, known as P after an order banning her identification, is due to deliver her second child by caesarean section on Wednesday. Mrs P had hoped that a judge in the court of protection would have been able to give a rulingon Tuesday that would enable her to be sterilised at the same time as the baby is born.

But Mr Justice Hedley was told that expert evidence was not yet available to allow the court to make a decision, in a case he said raised “extremely serious and important” issues.

A preliminary hearing will now be heard in April.

The issues to be decided on are whether P lacks the capacity to make decisions about contraception, and – in the event of a lack of capacity – whether being sterilised by means of “tubal ligation” is in her best interests.

Since the court of protection came into being four years ago, to decide on matters involving individuals judged by psychiatrists to lack mental capacity, there have been between 20 and 40 cases involving “serious medical treatment” every year.

The court, which rarely conducts hearings in public, has the power to order procedures where a degree of force is necessary. The last case of forced sterilisation was in 2003.

Mrs P said that her daughter’s latest pregnancy would give her “a complete family” – a girl and a boy – and that she would keep them together.

She explained that she had taken P to a family planning clinic but her daughter had refused a contraceptive injection at the last minute. “She fell pregnant with her second child quite quickly after her first, and if it [sterilisation] isn’t done, the thing that worries me is that she’ll fall pregnant again with her third.”

Mrs P said that her second choice would be a contraceptive implant for her daughter.

Hedley said the consequence of P having another child would “almost certainly” be immediate intervention at birth with a view to adoption. “P herself would understand that she had lost a child, but would not understand how final that loss might in fact be.”

The hearing was adjourned for medical and psychiatric reports.

P’s interests are being represented by the official solicitor, a government lawyer who represents those who cannot instruct their own legal team because they lack the capacity.

Last year a judge sitting in the court of protection ruled that a woman suffering from cancer of the uterus must receive treatment even though she had a phobia of hospitals and needles. He ruled that the 55-year-old woman be sedated in her own home then detained in a ward following her essential treatment, because her learning difficulties left her incapable of determining her own “best interests”.

Full article

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