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Legal first as court gives go-ahead for sterilisation of disabled man


A High Court judge made legal history yesterday by sanctioning the sterilisation of a man with learning difficulties because it was in his “best interests”.

The man, 37, known only as DE, from the Midlands, already has one son, born in 2010, with his girlfriend. He was deemed as lacking the capacity to consent to the procedure.

Mrs Justice Eleanor King made her decision at the Court of Protection in London. She said a vasectomy was “lawful and in the best interests” of the man after hearing that he did not want to be a father again but lacked the capacity effectively to choose or use contraception.

Mrs King said DE had a “remarkable and precious” decade-long relationship with his girlfriend, PQ, who also has learning difficulties. But the court heard that another pregnancy would cause DE “further psychological distress”.  

Recently, the couple have only been permitted to see each other under supervision to “keep them safe”. Experts believe an operation will give DE back  his  “independence”.

Mrs King ruled that a vasectomy was “undoubtedly in DE’s best interests” and that all “reasonable and proportionate steps” should be taken so that the operation can be carried out. She ruled that her decision pointed to “re-establishing as normal a life as possible” for him.

She said one medical expert had described DE’s desire not to have any more children as the “most magnetic factor” in favour of sterilisation. But in her judgment, she said that “allowing DE to resume his long-term relationship with PQ and restoring to him his lost skills and independence are as important, if not more so, when determining his best interests”.

In anticipation of the controversy that might be caused by the landmark decision, DE’s solicitor was keen to stress that the case “was not covered by the shadow of eugenics”. Mr Angus Moon QC told the court that the case “should not be seen as a green light for other applications for vasectomies in respect of other people with learning difficulties”.

The Independent has campaigned for the right to report on the workings of the Court of Protection for years. In this case, names have been changed to protect the identities of those involved.

Beverley Dawkins, policy manager at learning disability charity Mencap, said the court seemed to “have carefully weighed up what is in the best interests of this man, and reached a balanced decision that allows him to continue a loving relationship with his partner”.