Mencap has greeted a landmark high court decision as a victory
in preserving the rights of people with learning difficulties
against invasive medical treatment.
Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, president of the High Court Family
Division, overturned a high court ruling in January to impose a
hysterectomy on a 29-year-old woman with severe learning
difficulties. The woman's mother sought court backing for the
treatment in a bid to protect her daughter from pregnancy.
But official solicitor Laurence Oates, acting for the daughter,
lodged an appeal against the decision.
Mencap head of campaigns Richard Kramer said the judgement was
clearly in the best interests of the daughter.
"The sterilisation issue raises particularly sensitive and moral
questions," Kramer said.
"But sterilisation cannot be in a person's best interest if
based on social, rather than health grounds."
The high court was told that the daughter had a mental age of
six and would not be able to cope with pregnancy or parenthood. She
is expected to move to sheltered accommodation in future and her
mother is concerned that she would be at risk of being "taken
advantage of" and becoming pregnant.
Dame Butler-Sloss said she sympathised with the woman's mother,
but ruled that a hysterectomy would be "out of proportion, at this
stage, to the problem to be solved".
The daughter has the right "not to have drastic surgery imposed
on her unless or until it has been demonstrated that it is in her
best interest", Dame Butler-Sloss said. Instead a contraceptive
coil will be fitted.
Kramer said the judgement was clearly in the best interests of
the daughter. "Her rights are paramount," he added.