Mother loses fight to have son sterilised

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The Independent Online

A mother's attempt to have her Down's syndrome son sterilised without his consent has been blocked by the Court of Appeal.

A mother's attempt to have her Down's syndrome son sterilised without his consent has been blocked by the Court of Appeal.

Lady Justice Butler-Sloss, head of the Family Division of the High Court, yesterday rejected the mother's claim that a vasectomy would be in the best interests of her 28-year-old son. The court was told that the mother, 63, from south London, could no longer keep her sexually active son under strict supervision and any pregnancies would have "serious consequences" for any mother and child.

While there have been a number of cases in which sterilisation orders have been granted on behalf of women this was the first time the courts had been asked to rule on an application for a sterilisation order for a man. The son was represented by the Official Solicitor, Laurence Oates, who was opposed to the mother's application because he did not think sterilisation would improve the man's quality of life.

The court was told the son's mental condition meant he had no understanding of the link between sexual intercourse and pregnancy. Allan Levy QC, representing the mother, said the operation would give the man the opportunity to start relationships while avoiding any risk of him starting a pregnancy. He said the man was sexually aware, had been involved in sexual incidents with young women and may be physically capable of fathering a child.

His mother, who has kept a "careful watch" over his behaviour with girlfriends, was now in poor health and needed operations on her hip and back.

The man will be going into local authority care, where there may be greater opportunities for him to develop a close relationship with a young woman, Mr Levy said.

But Lady Justice Butler-Sloss said it was clear that, so long as the mother continued to care for her son, he would be closely supervised.

The man was "very vulnerable because he is friendly and easily led" and does not understand danger. "He enjoys the company of other people and likes to be close to women and to kiss them. The mother is on her guard against inappropriate behaviour," said Lady Justice Butler-Sloss.

In her judgment, Lady Justice Butler-Sloss ruled: "An application on behalf of a man for sterilisation is not the equivalent of an application in respect of a woman. It is not a matter of equality of the sexes but a balancing exercise on a case-by-case basis." There were "obvious biological differences" and sexual intercourse for a woman carries the risk of pregnancy which "patently it does not" for a man.

However, the court left open the possibility of the mother re-applying for a sterilisation order once her son went into local authority care if it would protect his freedom and quality of life. The mother was refused leave to appeal to the House of Lords.