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Judge refuses to allow abortion for mentally disabled woman without her consent

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
January 10th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

In England, a High Court judge will not allow doctors to abort a mentally disabled woman's baby without her consent. Doctors have applied for an order to allow them to terminate the pregnancy. They claim that the unborn child is endangering her life. The judge maintains that the mother must still have the right to decide, in spite of her disability.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic online) - The unidentified woman, whose identity is being kept secret for legal reasons is described as having "significant learning impairment," and has suffered a series of strokes due to sickle cell disease.

Medics insist that the woman does not have the ability to make the decision herself and have described the need for an abortion as "urgent."

Justice Hedley, sitting in the Court of Protection at London's High Court, said it was "in her best interests" if the woman, who is 18 weeks pregnant and from the south of England, was "to continue with the pregnancy."

The alleged father of the unborn child is known -- but it would not be right for the court to make any observations about that, he added.

The judge went on that it was very important to bear in mind that people with severe learning difficulties "may very well retain the capacity to make deeply personal decisions about how they conduct their lives."

According to the judge, this includes decisions about choice of partners, the extent of sexual activity, making permanent relationships "and decisions about their own medical care including, as in this case, the continuation or termination of pregnancy," he said.

The judge decided this after independent expert in psychiatry, Dr Stephen Tyrer, expressed the view that she did have capacity "to decide whether or not to continue with, or terminate, pregnancy," despite this she "manifestly lacked capacity" to participate in legal proceedings today, the judge said.

The woman's sickle cell disease is very serious -- her red blood cells develop abnormally, preventing oxygen circulation -- and the baby must be terminated very soon to reduce the risk of her losing her life, doctors say.

Around 250,000 people in the United Kingdom are believed to have sickle cell disease, and it is more prevalent among ethnic minorities.

Until recently the Court of Protection sat in secret and is charged with ruling on "life and death" cases where patients are deemed incapable of making a decision themselves.

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