International

Report: British court forces Italian woman to undergo C-section

The woman allegedly suffered a 'mental breakdown,' and a judge has ruled that the baby be placed for adoption

Press Association via AP Images

A 15-month-old girl who was forcibly delivered by cesarean section last year under a British court order is now the subject of an international legal dispute, The Telegraph newspaper reported Sunday.

The court said it had authorized the C-section because it was acting in the best interests of the mother, an Italian citizen who had allegedly suffered a “mental breakdown” while in the United Kingdom for a two-week job training course, according to the newspaper report. 

The baby remains in the custody of Essex social services, which is refusing to return the child to the mother even though she claims to have made a full recovery, the news report said. It said a judge has ruled that the child should be placed for adoption because of the risk of the woman having a relapse.

An Essex county council spokesman told the newspaper that the local authorities would not comment on ongoing cases involving vulnerable people and children, the report said.

The woman's ex-husband, an American, became involved in the case and requested that the baby be sent to Los Angeles to live with the man’s sister, the newspaper said. 

It said that under British law, children are to be adopted by members of their wider family wherever possible. However, the report said social services ruled in March that the American woman had no “blood” tie to the baby.

The mother is now fighting to have the court's ruling overturned before the adoption process is completed, the newspaper report said.

It said that attorneys for the mother, who cannot be named for legal reasons, described the case as “unprecedented” and said officials should have consulted her family beforehand, and should have also involved the Italian social services.

“I have never heard of anything like this in all my 40 years in the job," Brendan Fleming, the woman’s British lawyer, told The Telegraph. “I can understand if someone is very ill that they may not be able to consent to a medical procedure, but a forced cesarean is unprecedented."

The case has raised questions about the scope of social workers’ powers in the U.K. 

Member of Parliament John Hemming, who has been campaigning for reform and greater transparency in court proceedings involving family matters, said Sunday he would raise the issue in Parliament this week. “I have seen a number of cases of abuses of people’s rights in the family courts, but this has to be one of the more extreme," he told the newspaper.

“It involves the Court of Protection authorizing a cesarean section without the person concerned being made aware of what was proposed. I worry about the way these decisions about a person’s mental capacity are being taken without any apparent concern as to the effect on the individual being affected,” he was quoted as saying.

Hemming has helped foreign parents win back their children from Britain’s child protection system on the grounds that British courts have no jurisdiction over them, the newspaper said. 

Kept in the dark

The report said the woman, who said she was kept in the dark about the initial proceedings, had suffered from a panic attack when she could not find her two daughters' passports at an airline hotel. She reportedly called the police, who arrived while the woman was on the phone with her mother.  The police requested to speak to the woman’s mother, who told the officers that her daughter suffered from a bipolar condition, the news report said.

It said the police then informed the mother that they were going to take her to the hospital to “make sure that the baby was OK.” Instead, they took her to a psychiatric hospital, where she was restrained under Britain's Mental Health Act, according to The Telegraph. 

Meanwhile, social workers reportedly sought a court order that would allow them to remove the child from the woman's womb.

The report said that the woman was eventually strapped down, forcibly sedated and subjected to a cesarean section while unconscious. 

It said the mother returned from Italy to the U.K. in February to request the return of her daughter, but the judge ruled that the child should be placed for adoption because of the risk that the mother may suffer from a relapse, her lawyers said according to the report.

The High Court in Rome expressed outrage over the matter and questioned why U.K. proceedings had been applied to the child of an Italian citizen “habitually resident” in Italy, The Telegraph said. 

Al Jazeera

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