Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 19 April 2014

Woman able to decide on pregnancy

A court ruled that a young woman with learning difficulties can decide for herself whether to continue a pregnancy

A young woman with learning difficulties has the capacity to decide whether to continue or terminate a pregnancy, the High Court has ruled.

A judge made the declaration after concerns were raised that it might be appropriate for the Court of Protection to intervene and decide what is in the woman's best interests.

The woman, who cannot be named for legal reasons, suffers from sickle cell disease which has already caused her to have a string of strokes.

Mr Justice Hedley, sitting in the Court of Protection at London's High Court, said the woman, who is 18 weeks pregnant and from the south of England, "manifestly lacked capacity" to participate in legal proceedings at the present time and required the assistance of the Official Solicitor to act as her "litigation friend".

But an 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".

The judge said it was now also the position of all parties and all witnesses that she had capacity, "that being so, the Court of Protection has no jurisdiction to engage in an assessment of her best interests".

He added: "It is right to observe that both expert and professional and family evidence in the case is it would be in her best interests to continue with the pregnancy, but that is outwith the jurisdiction of this court."

The judge said it was very important to bear in mind that people with severe learning difficulties who might not be unable to function independently in the community in other aspects of their lives "may very well retain the capacity to make deeply personal decisions about how they conduct their lives".

These could include 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".

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