UK – Court asked to sterilise man with learning difficulties

The mother of a man with learning difficulties has asked a court if he can be sterilised to prevent him from having another baby as he does not want children but lacks the mental capacity to resist the “power of sex”.


The High Court Photo: Alamy

In a ground-breaking case, the Court of Protection has been asked to decide whether it would be in the 36-year-old’s best interests for him to have a vasectomy.

Mrs Justice Eleanor King heard that the man, who cannot be identified, had a son in 2010 after getting his girlfriend, who also has learning difficulties, pregnant.

His parents fear that the woman may want another child and that he would be “the only candidate” to be the father.

Both his family, from the Midlands, and his GP support the application, made by his local NHS Trust. It is claimed he lacks the capacity to make the decision himself.

The court heard that the birth of the man’s son had caused him “absolute turmoil”.

His moderate to severe learning difficulties mean that he is unable to look after the child and he has stated that he does not want any more children.

However, his mother told the court that she feared he was not capable of making an informed decision not to have unprotected sex again with the woman, with whom he has enjoyed a close friendship for 11 years.

She said that if the couple did have another child, it would likely be taken into care.

Theirs is the latest in a series of complex ethical cases to come before the Court of Protection, which has the power to make far-reaching decisions about the welfare of those deemed to lack mental capacity.

There is only one known previous case involving an application for male sterilisation and it was refused in 1999.

The court ruled that a vasectomy would not be in the best medical and emotional interests of the 28-year-old man, who had Down’s syndrome, despite his mother’s wishes to the contrary.

Campaigners have argued that using sterilisation as a form of contraception could have a devastating impact on the human rights of the disabled.

Giving evidence on Wednesday, the man’s mother said the mother of her son’s child had “wanted a baby that she could hold in her arms and love” but that she feared as soon as the child got older and became more independent, she would want another.

“If (my son) could stand here himself I’m sure he would say, ‘I don’t want children’ but the power of sex can be a strong thing,” she said.

“It would be as stressful again for us because I would say that in all probability this child would be taken straight into care.”

Dr David Milnes, a consultant psychiatrist who specialises in learning difficulties, told the court the man was unlikely to ever be able to use contraception competently and that there was a “substantial” risk that he could father another child.

The court heard that the man had become anxious and shown signs of psychological distress when discussing his son, who is cared for by his maternal grandmother, and had “consistently” made it clear that he did not want another child.

The relationship he enjoyed with the toddler’s mother was said to be “very important” to him and the psychiatrist said that if a subsequent child was born and then taken away it would have a significant impact on his emotional well-being.

“The events leading up to and following the birth of the child were very difficult for him,” Dr Milnes told the court.

“He initially denied he was the boy’s father and refused to acknowledge that link.

“I think another child would cause him significant distress, more so if he is blamed if the baby is taken from (its mother).”

The judge was told that the man enjoyed playing with his son for up to an hour at a time but took no parental responsibility and did not want to give up his own life to be a father.

He was said to understand the purpose of a vasectomy but had expressed fear that it may cause him pain.

When asked whether he would rather use contraception or undergo the surgical procedure, he had suggested that he would choose contraception.

However, he had also asked for a vasectomy, having being influenced by his parents’ views.

The man was described as a “shy individual” who lived with his parents and enjoyed an active social life, regularly attending various social and sporting clubs.

A spokeswoman for the learning disability charity Mencap said it would support the court’s decision as long as every aspect of the man’s case was carefully weighed up and no prejudice was involved.

“The Court of Protection needs to decide on the least restrictive option and support them to continue their loving relationship,” she said.

“It is very difficult to reverse these procedures so we would always want to be sure that every alternative had been considered. Each case is specific to the individual and the ruling must reflect this.”


SOURCE: The Telegraph

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