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Report No. 196

(7) In re B (A Minor) (Wardship: Sterilisation): 1988(1) AC 199

This was a case of a mentally retarded 17 year old ward and her ability to understand speech was that of a 6 year old child. Her mother and staff at the Sunderland Borough Council where she lives, became aware that the girl showing signs of sexual awareness and could become pregnant. The Council applied to the Court for an order that B, a ward of Court, should be allowed to undergo sterlisation compulsorily. She would panic and require heavy sedation during normal delivery, which carried risk of injury to her. Caesarian was deemed inappropriate. She may not care for the child as a mother. Bush J gave leave for sterilisation.

On appeal, the said decision was confirmed. On further appeal, the House of Lords also confirmed the decision. It said that a court exercising wardship jurisdiction, when reaching a decision on an application to authorize an operation for the sterlisation of a ward, was concerned only with one primary and paramount consideration, namely, the welfare and best interests of the ward; that accordingly, on the evidence adduced of the risk of B becoming pregnant, of the lack of effective contraceptive which required being formulated for her, of the trauma that childbirth would bring to her and to prevent the risk of injury to her or her child, and of her inability even to desire or care for a child, the operation would be in the best interests of the child.

Lord Templeman, however, observed that sterilization of a girl under 18 shall not be undertaken except with permission of a Judge of the High Court. Or else, a doctor sterilising a child merely on basis of her parent's consent, may become liable criminally.

The majority disagreed with La Forest J of the Canadian Supreme Court In re Ere: (1986) 31 DLR (4th ) 1 where it was said that the Court could never give consent to sterlisation of a minor. It approved the decision of Heilborn J in In re D (A. Minor)(Wardship: Sterlisation) 1976 Fam 185 that a girl could be sterilised if pregnancy could be an unmitigated disaster.

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