Court Grants Parents Permission to Sterilize 11-Year-Old

Filed under: In The News


A couple won permission from the Australian courts to go ahead with a planned hysterectomy for their 11-year-old daughter, whose medical condition causes her to have epileptic seizures when she menstruates. The ruling has sparked a nationwide debate there over the rights of children with disabilities.

The child, known only as Angela, has a condition called Rett Syndrome, according to ABC News Online. The disease is profoundly disabling and has left her without the ability to communicate; she is also unable to feed herself or walk without assistance.

While Angela's seizures are controlled by medication, they worsen when the girl has a heavy menstrual period, which, for her, began at the age of 9. Experts recommended to her parents in March 2009 that the girl undergo a hysterectomy, but the health provider would not perform the surgery without a court order because of the irreversible nature of the procedure.

The court ruled in favor of Angela's parents, outraging some who feel the girl's basic human rights are being violated. Leanne Dowse, from the University of New South Wales, tells ABC News Online that children like Angela need to be protected.

"Australia became a signatory to the UN convention on the rights of persons with disabilities in July 2008," Dowse says. "That convention says that individuals with a disability have a right to respect for his or her physical integrity. That sort of idea means that the first position is to protect an individual from these sorts of things."

But Mark Patterson, from the Australian National Council of Intellectual Disability, tells the Web site Angela's case is a nuanced one.

"Sometimes people get the idea that families just do this as a matter of convenience and it's all done within five minutes," he says. "It's not done like that at all. I think we need to think about the process and have some care and respect for the families and the judges involved."

Should parents have the right to seek irreversible surgical treatments for their children with disabilities?

Related: Rett Syndrome

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.