Woman with limited mental capacity can have her baby

 

A pregnant woman with significant mental health impairments will not have to undergo an abortion after a senior judge ruled that she had enough capacity to decide whether she wanted to become a mother.

The decision is a significant ruling which underlines the important legal point that those who lack the mental capacity to make decisions about key areas such as money and living arrangements may nonetheless be able to make deeply personal decisions about sex, relationships and giving birth.

The young woman, who is 18 weeks pregnant and cannot be named for legal reasons, was described in court as being in the “bottom one percent of the UK population” in terms of her cognitive abilities. Born with the genetic blood disorder sickle cell disease, she suffered from multiple strokes as a child that left her mentally impaired. She later won significant damages from a hospital in a medical negligence case and two deputies – her mother and a senior solicitor – were appointed by the Court of Protection to look after her “best interests” in the wake of the litigation. 

The court was asked to decide whether the woman should go ahead with the pregnancy after the solicitor who acts as one of her deputies expressed concern that she might not have the required mental skills to decide whether she should give birth or seek an abortion when it emerged in November that she had fallen pregnant.

The views of her treating clinicians and independent psychiatrist Dr Stephen Tyrer were sought and all professionals agreed that she had the capacity to decide what she wanted to do with the pregnancy. The court also heard that she was supported by a loving family who looked after her and wanted her to press ahead with the pregnancy.

Mr Justice Hedley, sitting in the Court of Protection at London’s High Court, ruled that while the woman “manifestly lacked capacity” to participate in legal proceedings, she nonetheless did have the ability to “decide whether or not to continue with, or terminate, pregnancy”.

In his ruling the senior family court judge, who is set to retire shortly, warned that courts and health officials should generally refrain from trying to decide whether someone with limited mental functions will be able to bring up a child and must instead concentrate solely on whether the pregnancy itself is in their best interests.

“My instincts are that has nothing to do with the issue of whether a pregnancy should continue simply because once a 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,” he said. “I’m anxious about there being brought into capacity assessments – in relation to this issue – the ability to care for a child in the future.”

Ha also warned that people with severe learning problems who have some capacity must be allowed to make decisions – even if they are bad choices.

“Anyone who has sat in the family jurisdiction as long as I have spends the greater part of their life dealing with the consequences of unwise decisions made in personal relationships,” he said. “The purpose of [mental capacity legislation] is not to dress an incapacitated person in cotton wool but to allow them to make the same mistakes that all other human beings are able to make and not infrequently do.”

The case highlights how capacity can often be a grey area that the court has to decide on. Patients in comas or those with severe physical impairments are clearly unable to make any decisions about their life. But those with learning difficulties and impaired mental faculties often show a much greater degree of autonomy in their decision making.

In such cases the Court of Protection has been called upon to rule whether an individual can make deeply personal decisions about sex and relationships. In early 2011, for example, a judge ruled that a gay man called “Alan” who had an IQ of 48 should be stopped from having anal sex because he lacked capacity to consent to sexual relations. However, in an illustration of how capacity can be both won and lost, the judge also accepted that Alan might one day be able to make decisions about safe sex if adequate sex education was provided by the local authority.

In another similar and tragic recent case, the court was asked to rule whether a young woman with severe learning difficulties should be sterilised because she kept falling pregnant. The woman’s mother wanted the procedure to take place immediately after an imminent caesarean section to deliver her daughter’s baby. The request was eventually withdrawn before further hearings could be called to decide on an outcome.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Courtney Love has admitted using heroin while pregnant with Frances Bean Cobain, her daughter with Kurt Cobain
people
Sport
Murray celebrates reaching the final
tennis
Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
Life and Style
tech
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Extras
indybest
News
Joel Grey, now 82, won several awards for his role in Cabaret
people
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Henry VIII played by Damien Lewis
tvReview: Scheming queens-in-waiting, tangled lines of succession and men of lowly birth rising to power – sound familiar?
Sport
Harry Kane celebrates scoring the opening goal for Spurs
footballLive: All the latest transfer news as deadline day looms
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Support Administrator - Part Time

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join the South West'...

Recruitment Genius: Secretary

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This major European Intellectual Propert...

Tradewind Recruitment: Humanities Teacher

£130 - £150 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Humanities Teacher Jan 2015 - July...

Recruitment Genius: Accounts Assistant - 9-12 Months

£14500 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Accounts Assistant is immedi...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness