Autistic woman should have caesarean

Posted: 30th January 2017

HospitalThe law protects your right to decide whether or not to undergo invasive medical procedures – but not everyone is able to make such crucial decisions for themselves. In one case, the High Court stepped in to authorise the Caesarean delivery of a baby boy against his autistic mother’s wishes.

The expectant mother, who is aged in her 20s, now lives in the south of England but spent her early life in Africa where she was subjected to tribal scarring ceremonies and, possibly, female genital mutilation. She was, as a result, terrified of being cut and had a strong aversion to hospitals. She had refused to allow doctors to examine her and was adamant that she wished to give birth naturally, within her own home and without any form of medical intervention.

Fearing for the welfare of both the woman and her unborn child, an NHS trust sought the Court’s authority to perform a Caesarean section, if necessary using force.

Mr Justice Baker acknowledged that the woman’s wishes and feelings commanded respect. In upholding the application, however, it found that, due to her autism, low IQ and learning disabilities, she lacked the capacity to make important decisions for herself. She had no real understanding of the realities of childbirth or the grave risks involved in an unassisted birth at home.

The Court authorised the trust to restrain the woman, if required, and to carry out a planned Caesarean delivery under general anaesthetic. Following the decision, the Court revealed the happy news that she had given birth to a baby boy and that only minimal restraint had been necessary. The necessity of medical intervention was underlined by the fact that her baby was in the breech position. She had also required a blood transfusion after being diagnosed with anaemia.