Concerns about a woman’s capacity and the birth of her baby

To read on The Irish Times website:

Doctors may induce birth of intellectually impaired woman’s baby

Court told of concers over young woman’s ‘childlike’ approach to her pregancy


A judge has made orders permitting doctors to induce the birth of a baby of an intellectually impaired young woman.

On Wednesday, the president of the High Court, Mr Justice Peter Kelly, granted the orders to the HSE permitting induction and, if necessary, emergency Caesarean Section.

The orders were sought due to concerns about the woman’s capacity to consent to appropriate management of delivery should a situation of foetal distress or medical crisis arise.

Recent scans showed the foetus is smaller than normal for late stage pregnancy, presenting a higher risk of foetal morbidity and mortality, the court was told.

The judge said he was satisfied in principle the orders were necessary in the best interests of the woman and her unborn baby.

Questions also “need to be asked” as to how a woman “with a mental age of eight comes to be pregnant at all”, he said.

While aged in her twenties, the court was not dealing with an adult that age, but with a person with a mental capacity “well below” that.

The court had heard the child’s father also has an intellectual impairment.

Earlier, the woman’s treating obstetrician said he never previously sought such orders in his long career, but was concerned about the woman’s “childlike” approach to her pregnancy and if she understood the implications of various modes of delivery and the small size of her foetus.

The woman is 38 weeks pregnant and had told him she was looking forward to the birth of her child and had agreed to induction, he said. His concern, given her intellectual disability, was her mental state and response might change depending on progress of delivery.

He was aware of psychologist reports stating she is eager to please but also can be “difficult” to deal with and he had seen her having “episodes” with her mother.

Where a foetus is small as here, he considered there should be induction after 37 weeks. If that did not work, delivery would be by emergency Caesarean Section. He was particularly concerned, if acute foetal distress arose, he might wish to proceed to emergency CS and wanted to safeguard the hospital, himself and his colleagues.

Counsel for the woman’s court-appointed guardian stressed the main concern was to do what is best for the woman and baby.

While not opposing the orders, this application came as a “surprise” because engagement between the woman, her parents and doctors has been very positive during the pregnancy. The family had concerns whether court intervention was necessary and if this application was “a bit heavy-handed” and hoped there would be no need to implement the orders.


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