A British judge has taken the unprecedented step of sanctioning the sterilisation of a man with the mental age of a child, ruling that it was in his best interest.
The 36-year-old man already has a son and does not want to become a father again, but is unable to make decisions about using contraception, London’s High Court heard.
Judge Eleanor King ruled on Friday that the man, referred to only as “DE” in court proceedings, could be given a vasectomy as having another child could cause him “serious psychological distress”.
“I have reached the conclusion that a vasectomy is undoubtedly in DE’s best interests after having heard all the evidence,” she said.
The man does not have the capacity to give his consent to the vasectomy, the court heard.
His family and doctors have backed the move but the decision – the first of its kind in Britain – had to be made by a judge.
Experts say he has an IQ of 40, meaning he has the mental age of a child aged between six and nine. He is unable to live alone, has limited speech and cannot use money, King said.
He and his girlfriend, who also suffers from severe learning difficulties, had a son in 2010.
The court heard that the couple have been together for 10 years but do not currently see each other without supervision, in order to “keep them safe”.
A vasectomy will allow the man to resume a sexual relationship with his girlfriend, the judge said.
King said in her ruling that DE, described as a “friendly, gentle person”, was greatly distressed by the birth of his son and did not comprehend that it had resulted from having sex with his girlfriend.
The child is cared for by the girlfriend’s family, she added.
King paid tribute to the man’s parents, saying they had “worked tirelessly to give him the best possible quality of life and in particular to ensure that he has as much independence and autonomy as can possibly be achieved”.
DE has “prospered and achieved far beyond what may have been expected given his level of disability” thanks to their care, she added, including managing to work at a local market stall.