Court to rule on sterilisation of learning disabled mother

Learning disabled women should only face enforced sterilisation on medical grounds, not for birth control, Mencap has said ahead of a high-profile case on the issue tomorrow. Picture: Rex Features

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Learning disabled women should only face enforced sterilisation on medical grounds, not for birth control, Mencap has said ahead of a high-profile case on the issue tomorrow.

The Court of Protection will decide whether a learning disabled woman about to give birth has the capacity to make future decisions on contraception and, if not, whether she should be forcibly sterilised.

The case is being brought by a council and an NHS trust. As reported in today’s Daily Telegraph, the woman would be sterilised at the same time as her Caesarean section on Wednesday and involve severing and sealing her fallopian tubes.

Under the Mental Capacity Act 2005, decisions taken on behalf of people who lack capacity should be in their best interests and involve the least restrictive interventions. However, enforced sterilisation was highly unlikely to meet these conditions, warned David Congdon, head of campaigns and policy at Mencap.

“Enforced sterilisation should only take place when it is in someone’s best interests and that’s only like to be for a medical reason, not a social one,” he said. “I’d need a whole lot of convincing that there are grounds for sterilising in these cases.”

“It would be very unusual for sterilisation to be used currently as a means of contraception in the UK. This approach has a permanent result, cannot be reversed, and challenges basic human rights,” said Barbara McIntosh, co-director of the Foundation for People with Learning Disabilities. 

“There are a number of alternatives for long-term birth control that can be considered, while the person with the learning disability should receive the right support and information that they can understand from health services, family and carers, to make an appropriate choice.”

Congdon said he hoped the court would publish its judgement in full.

The court, which adjudicates on cases under the Mental Capacity Act, was backed to reach a sound decision by social care specialist lawyer Ed Mitchell, editor of Social Care Law Today.

“There have been a lot of scare stories about the Court of Protection making draconian decisions,” he said. “I think it operates in a very sensitive manner. In most cases, decisions are made in the best interests of the vulnerable adults.”

Congdon said he too was satisfied with the operation of the court.

Both said cases of enforced sterilisation of women with learning disabilities, once common, were now rare.

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