Pregnant mentally disabled woman allowed to have baby after High Court ruled doctors could not force termination as she has capacity to make own decision
Mr Justice Hedley said if she could not care for the baby then society couldThe NHS said that the termination was 'urgent' as her life is in dangerThe unnamed patient has sickle cell disease and has suffered several strokesDoctors claimed that she is unable to take decision herself But High Court rules mother has ability to decide on 'continuation or
termination of pregnancy'
15:04 GMT, 10 January 2013
03:51 GMT, 11 January 2013
A pregnant woman with severe learning difficulties will not be forced to have an abortion after the High Court ruled she has the mental capacity to decide if she wants the baby.
Doctors applied for an order to allow them to terminate her pregnancy claiming the child is endangering her life.
But – in what is a significant ruling – the judge ruled the mother, who is 18 weeks pregnant, must still have the right to decide despite having a 'significant learning impairment'.
The woman, who is not named for legal reasons, is described as being in the 'bottom one per cent of the UK population' in terms of cognitive ability.
Case: The mentally disabled woman should be forced to have an abortion, the High Court was told, but the judge today refused to allow it
Mr Justice Hedley said even if the pregnant woman did not have the capacity to care for the baby, society does.
She suffers from a sickle cell disease and had a series of strokes when she was young, which left her mentally impaired and for which her family won damages from a hospital negligence.
Medics said she does not have the ability to make the decision herself and have described the need for an abortion as 'urgent'.
But Mr Justice Hedley, sitting in the Court
of Protection at London’s High Court, said it was 'in her best interests' if the woman, who from the south of England, was 'to
continue with the pregnancy'.
The judge went on that it was very important to bear in mind that even if people with
severe learning difficulties do not have the mental capacity to take part in legal proceedings, they 'may very
well retain the capacity to make deeply personal decisions about how
they conduct their lives'.
These could include decisions about choice of partners, the extent of
sexual activity, making permanent relationships 'and decisions about
their own medical care including, as in this case, the continuation or
termination of pregnancy,' he said.
He said courts and health officials should in the main stay out of decisions about whether people with learning disabilities can have children.
He said: 'My instincts are that (her limited mental function) has nothing to do with the issue of whether a pregnancy should continue simply because once the child is born, if the mother doesn't have the ability to care for a child, society has perfectly adequate processes to deal with that.
'I'm anxious about there being brought into capacity assessments… the ability to care for a child in the future', he was quoted in The Independent as saying.
The judge added that people with reduced mental capacity should still be allowed to make decisions – whether they are bad or good – as the majority of the population do.
There was a belief that the alleged
father was known but it would not be right for the court to make any
observations about that, he added.
Condition: The unnamed woman has sickle cell disease, where red blood become deformed (pictured) and can clog blood vessels causing breathing problems and even strokes
The judge decided this after independent expert in psychiatry, Dr Stephen Tyrer, expressed the
view that she did have capacity 'to decide whether or not to continue
with, or terminate, pregnancy'.
The woman's sickle cell disease is very serious and the baby must be
terminated very soon to reduce the risk of her losing her life, doctors claimed.
Her condition means that her red blood cells develop abnormally, preventing oxygen being supplied around the body properly.
The cells' shape can also clog blood vessels, affecting
breathing and leading to anaemia, severe respiratory problems, strokes
and in some cases death.
Around 250,000 people in the UK are believed to have it, and it is more prevalent among ethnic minorities.
The case to force the abortion was argued by an NHS trust in southern England, in the Court of Protection, sitting at the High Court in London today.
Until recently the Court of Protection sat in secret and is charged with ruling on 'life and death' cases where patients are deemed incapable of making a decision themselves.
But it has also been criticised for some of the rulings it has made.
The authorities have previously stopped a dementia patient going on the holiday of a lifetime because it was deemed too dangerous and forced another individual to use contraception.