A pregnant woman with “very severe” mental health problems could be forcibly sedated and have her baby delivered via Caesarean section against her will if the need arose, a High Court Judge has ruled.
The case, heard in the Court of Protection, echoes that of Italian mother Alessandra Pacchieri, who spoke last week of her distress at not being allowed by the court to have a natural birth – and at her baby later being taken into care.
The 36-year-old woman at the centre of this latest case has three other children and cannot be named in order to protect her privacy. Mr Justice Peter Jackson said in his ruling that medics could sedate her and use “proportionate force” if necessary to deliver the baby safely.
Doctors told the judge the woman was suffering from “very severe mental health difficulties,” which led him to conclude that she might not be capable of making a life-saving decision if medics believed a Caesarean was needed in labour.
The woman has a scar from a Caesarean section during a previous birth that could rupture during labour and put her life at risk. In the event of that happening, doctors and the NHS trust involved needed permission from the court that they could intervene and perform a Caesarean section.
The woman is already 36 weeks pregnant and the judge made the ruling on the grounds that it was best to plan ahead for the worst eventuality.
Vikram Sachdeva, the lawyer representing the NHS trust, told the judge that the woman was suffering from paranoid schizophrenia. He said it was not a case about “foisting a Caesarean section on an unwilling patient” but about deciding what was in the woman’s best medical interests.
Mr Justice Jackson heard the case in open court but said reporters could not identify the woman or the NHS trust, because that might risk her identity becoming known. He made the decision after hearing from a court-appointed-lawyer known as the Official Solicitor, representing the woman – as well as a lawyer representing the trust and the doctors involved.
The lawyer representing the mother said doctors were trying to find the “least restrictive option”.
Mr Justice Jackson made a clear ruling that allowing doctors to operate against the woman’s wishes if necessary was in her best interests. He said: “The proposal that the trust make offers the best chance for a secure labour and delivery.”
The Court of Protection case was heard in the Royal Courts of Justice in London.