from the westaustralian.com.au
Disabled girl can be sterilised: court
By Paul Osborne, AAP March 9, 2010, 11:52 am
Disability groups are split over a Family Court decision to approve the sterilisation of an 11-year-old girl.
Family Court judge Paul Cronin found that the performance of a hysterectomy on the child, identified only as Angela, was "in the child's best interests".
Angela has Rett syndrome, making her profoundly disabled and unable to talk or use sign language.
The court, sitting in Brisbane, heard Angela acted in a similar way to a three-month-old baby.
She has to be fed and cared for and has no bladder control.
Since she was born, Angela - whose parents married in South America and came to Australia in 1991 - has had epileptic seizures but they are now under control through medication.
However, while the epilepsy is controlled, seizures can occur when she has a heavy menstrual period, which have been happening since she was nine years old.
The family was told by experts in March 2009 the recommended treatment would be a hysterectomy, the court heard.
But Queensland Health - acting on legal advice - said because of the irreversible nature of the procedure it could not be conducted without a court order.
Justice Cronin said in his judgment, publicly released on Tuesday, the procedure was "urgent and necessary".
"Angela is never going to have the benefits of a normal teenage and adult life," the judgment read.
"A fundamental consideration is ... the risks to Angela's life as well as her general health."
Mark Pattison, from the National Council on Intellectual Disability, said the decision - which followed a High Court ruling in 1992 - showed the system was working.
Mr Pattison said the High Court found the Family Court was the best jurisdiction to determine such matters.
"It went into a jurisdiction that has some sensitivity to family matters, and from our point of view it was a very good place to put it," Mr Pattison told AAP.
"You have an independent umpire, they consulted with the family and the obstetrician and made the best decision."
But researcher Dr Leanne Dowse, from the University of NSW, said the decision appeared to breach international human rights conventions.
"Australia became a signatory to the UN convention on the rights of persons with disabilities in July 2008," Dr Dowse told ABC Radio.
"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 Mr Pattison said the overriding human right in the case was the "dignity of the person".
He said it would not have been an easy process for the family.
"These families have been through a lot, and done all they can, and throw their hands up and say `What more can I do?'," he said.
"I think people should give them a bit of a break."