There has been widespread outrage after a British court ordered a pregnant Italian woman with mental heatlh issues to be sedated, only to then order a C-section so that her child could be given up for adoption.
The woman, who cannot be named for legal reasons and who is bi-polar, was flying to Britain to attend a training course with the budget airline Ryanair at Stansted airport in July of last year. During the flight she suffered a panic attack after forgetting to take her medication.
The woman was removed from the flight by the police, and then sedated. The police then contacted her mother in Italy, who looks after her other two children from a previous marriage. Despite her mother explaining that this attack was simply the result of her forgetting to take her medication, the woman was taken to a psychiatric hospital and sectioned under the Mental Health Act (this is what is known as being “committed” in the United States).
Five weeks later, following an appeal by social workers on behalf of Essex County Council, the Court of Protection ruled that the Italian national was unfit to be a mother. While she was still sedated, her child was removed by Caesarean section. Her family’s permission was not sought, and the mother only found out about the operation after she woke up.
The case will be highlighted in Parliament this week by the Liberal Democrat MP John Hemming, who has long campaigned for greater transparency in cases involving family courts.
“I think this has a fair chance of being the worst case of human-rights abuse I’ve ever seen. She wasn’t treated as a human being,” Hemming said to the Independent.
In a BBC Radio interview, Hemming suggested a much more sinister motivation than the protection of the child. He told Radio Five Live that the legal decision in this case was influenced by the British Government’s recently declared policy to increase the number of children available for adoption in England and Wales. He said that the Court of Protection was in the unique and dangerous position of being able to declare parents unfit to look after their children, meaning they can be taken away from them if the court declares it in the interest of the child in question.
After the procedure, the Italian national was sent back to Italy without her child. She returned to Britain in February this year to appeal for the return of her daughter who is now 15 months old, but Chelmsford Crown Court ruled that the child would not be returned on the grounds that her mother could suffer a relapse. The case is ongoing.
Hemming is hoping that by highlighting such an extreme and distressing case the British people will demand more accountability when it comes to the practices of family courts. The Court of Protection, created under the Mental Health Act of 2005, has jurisdiction over property, financial affairs, and the personal health and safety of those deemed unfit to make decisions for themselves by reason of mental illness. In many cases the court does a good job, making difficult and at times very painful decisions about how best to protect the mentally ill and their loved ones. However Hemming believes more transparency and public scrutiny is necessary since the court by definition has the final say over the affairs and lives of some of the most vulnerable people in society.