Iowa Supreme Court: Mother needed court approval of vasectomy for mentally disabled son

[JURIST] The Iowa Supreme Court [official website] ruled [opinion; pdf] on Friday that an Iowa mother should have sought court approval before arranging a vasectomy for her mentally disabled son. The court held unanimously that a vasectomy is a "major elective surgery," as well as a "nonemergency major medical procedure" that required court approval despite the mother's legal guardianship of her son. The mother, Maria Kennedy, arranged for the procedure [Des Moines Register report] in February 2013 after her son, Stuart, told her that he had been having a sexual relationship with a co-worker. Although the court found that Kennedy should have sought court approval for the procedure, it also accepted the probate court's determination that Kennedy "did not make such arrangement or provide assistance out of malice," and decline to terminate the guardianship.

Forced sterilization has a controversial history in the US and abroad. The 1942 landmark case of Skinner v. Oklahoma [opinion], cited in the Iowa Supreme Court's opinion, recognized the fundamental right to procreate in the US. In August 2013, the UK Court of Protection [official website] permitted [JURIST report] the involuntary vasectomy of a mentally disabled man incapable of informed consent regarding the procedure, stating that it was in his "best interests." UN rights expert Rita Izsak [official profile] called on [JURIST report] EU member states [official list] in April 2013 to do more to safeguard the human rights of Roma peoples, including protections from forced sterilization. In July 2012, a Namibia court ruled [JURIST report] that the government had wrongly sterilized three HIV-positive women without their consent.

 

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