in brief: woman forcibly sedated and given caesarean
In what is becoming an international legal row, it has become apparent that an Italian woman visiting Britain was forcibly sedated and given an caesarean section after experiencing a mental breakdown.
Last year, while visiting the UK on a two-week business trip, a pregnant Italian woman with a preexisting bipolar disorder experienced panic attacks, and was taken by police to a psychiatric unit. Although the woman expressed a desire to return to her hotel, she was sedated, restrained and sanctioned under the Mental Health Act.
Meanwhile, Essex social services obtained a High Court order for the woman’s birth ‘to be enforced by way of caesarean section,’ whereupon the newborn was taken from the woman’s womb into the care of the state.
Although it appears that social services failed to contact the woman’s family or next of kin in Italy, or at least liaise with an Italian social services unit, the council claimed that it was acting in the child’s ‘best interests.’
Having recovered, after being escorted back to Italy without her baby, the woman has now embarked on a legal battle to regain custody of her child. According to her lawyer, Brendan Fleming, this incident is ‘unprecedented.’
This story raises numerous social and ethical questions around the nature of consent and mental illness, the extent to which the state can and should intervene in such matters and the ways in which these debates intersect with gendered notions of who is “fit” to be a mother.