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article imageParents win right to sterilize severely disabled daughter

By Chris Dade     Mar 10, 2010 in Health
Brisbane - An Australian couple has won the right to have their severely disabled 11-year-old daughter sterilized. The ruling from the Family Court will allow the parents to have a hysterectomy performed on the girl.
Explaining his decision to allow the sterilization of the young girl known only as "Angela", Justice Paul Cronin is quoted as saying an irreversible hysterectomy, or removal of the womb, was "urgent and necessary" and in Angela's "best interests."
According to the Telegraph, he said:
Angela is never going to have the benefits of a normal teenage and adult life. A fundamental consideration is ... the risks to Angela's life as well as her general health
According to theBrisbane Times, Angela cannot communicate or care for herself in any way and "'acts as a three-month-old baby." Angela suffers from Rett syndrome.
By removing her womb, a procedure said to have the support of three of the leading gynaecologists in the state in the northeast of Australia, her menstrual cycle will stop and doctors hope that will put an end to the epileptic seizures that cause her considerable distress.
But the court's decision has prompted questions as to whether performing the hysterectomy is a breach of human rights.
A disability researcher suggested the government's reduction in the provision of residential services in recent years, without providing alternative support for families with severely disabled family members, is placing added strain on parents such as those who have now decided their daughter's life will be improved by her sterilization.
With regard to the issue of human rights The Australian reports that Carolyn Frohmader, Executive Director of Women with Disabilities Australia (WWDA), and Therese Sands, an Executive Director of People with Disability Australia (PWD), have both criticized the decision of the court.
Ms Frohmader is reportedly opposed entirely to the sterilization of children. She said it is always disabled girls who are subject to the procedure Angela is set to undergo. She said:
It is only ever the disabled girls. When you go through the cases, there is never a boy, no matter how intellectually disabled, who has to be sterilised.
Meanwhile, Ms Sands commented:
It is our view that nobody has the right to sterilise a child, not a judge, not a parent, not unless it's a matter of life or death.
Concerning the alleged lack of government support for those looking after severely disabled family members the Brisbane Times observes that Dr Leanne Dowse of the University of New South Wales told ABC Radio:
It means that something like menstruation for a family is just one more problem issue that they have to deal with in this massive set of unmet needs.
Decisions like [Angela's] have to be seen in that context; it's often for people who are at their wits end already.
It's been a very difficult decision and I'm sure that nobody would take it lightly but ... it's important to understand that those people are trying to make that decision in the context that their services [and] support needs are not being met. We see this increasingly in disability where there's an enormous amount of unmet need.
The issue is that it's probably a quick fix but it really is one of those things that probably almost definitely covering up a whole range of other issues
She stated too that it was unusual for a court to give parents the right granted to Angela's mother and father on Tuesday.
According to more than one source National Council on Intellectual Disability executive director Mark Patterson has expressed the opinion that the issue of sterilizing severely disabled children "is a very difficult one".
He also remarked:
We take the pragmatic approach. It doesn't help families in their day-to-day lives if we say we are not going to allow sterilisation.
These families have been through a lot, and done all they can, and throw their hands up and say 'What more can I do?'. I think people should give them a bit of a break
In normal circumstances parents in Australia do not need a court's permission to seek medical treatment for their children but after a 1992 case involving a teenage girl called Marion, sterilized against her will, it was decided that "serious, invasive, irreversible medical procedures" must be approved by a court.
The Telegraph mentions too a case that came to light in the U.S. in 2007.
It transpired that Ashley, a severely disabled girl then aged nine, from Washington state, had undergone a hysterectomy at a children's hospital in Seattle when she was 6-years-old.
In addition to agreeing to her hysterectomy Ashley's parents had agreed that she should have her breast buds removed and be given hormones to prevent her from growing beyond a certain weight and height and becoming a sexually mature adult.
As in Australia if parents in Washington state wish to sterilize their child court permission is required.
More about Sterilization, Australia, Severely disabled
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