Last weekend, the Telegraph led with the story ‘Operate on this mother so we can take her baby’ – the case of a mother given a forced caesarean section whilst sedated and her child put into care. On the face of it, an egregious abuse of a person’s human rights. Since then, more of the story has come to light, with some commentators bemoaning the knee jerk criticisms of the case. But this case is not so black and white.
The Original Story
In 2012, a pregnant Italian woman came to the UK for a two week training course with Ryanair at Stansted. According to the Telegraph, on June 13th:
“Staying at an airport hotel, she had something of a panic attack when she couldn’t find the passports for her two daughters, who were with her mother back in Italy. She called the police, who arrived at her room when she was on the phone to her mother. The police asked to speak to the grandmother, who explained that her daughter was probably over-excited because she suffered from a “bipolar” condition and hadn’t been taking her medication to calm her down.
The police told the mother that they were taking her to hospital to “make sure that the baby was OK”. On arrival, she was startled to see that it was a psychiatric hospital, and said she wanted to go back to her hotel. She was restrained by orderlies, sectioned under the Mental Health Act and told that she must stay in the hospital.
By now Essex social services were involved, and five weeks later she was told she could not have breakfast that day. When no explanation was forthcoming, she volubly protested. She was strapped down and forcibly sedated, and when she woke up hours later, found she was in a different hospital and that her baby had been removed by caesarean section while she was unconscious and taken into care by social workers. She was not allowed to see her baby daughter, and later learnt that a High Court judge, Mr Justice Mostyn, had given the social workers permission to arrange for the child to be delivered. In October, at a hearing before another judge, she was represented by lawyers assigned to her by the local authority and told she would be escorted back to Italy without her baby.”
The key criticisms in the piece and subsequent pieces by the Guardian, Metro and other outlets were as follows:
- The mother was forced into a Caesarean section without her consent
- The child was removed from the mother without proper consultation
- The child was taken into, and kept within, the UK adoption system when family members had petitioned to take care of her.
- The mother has been refused custody of the child, even though she is now taking her medication regularly, and in a position to take care of her maternal responsibilities.
The Case for the Defence
The original story left some unanswered questions for anyone with an enquiring mind. Was the caesarean related to the woman’s mental condition, or made for other health reasons? Why was the woman detained under the Mental Health Act for five weeks for what is described as a ‘panic attack’? To name but two.
On December 2nd, Family Law blogger Pink Tape came out with a useful blog, attempting to address some of these questions. The blog made several critical points but was let down by a snarkiness towards those who had reacted to the original article. Given that the author of Pink Tape acknowledged within the piece that “this remains a case about which we still know very little” – the piece contained some pretty strident comments about those involved, which could have been left on the cutting room floor to the betterment of the piece as a whole.
Essex Council released a press release on the case following mounting pressure kicked up by the scale of the story, which had become international. From this we now know:
- The Health Trust (not social services) applied for the Court Order required to perform the Caesarean section – It is implied but not confirmed that there were medical grounds unrelated to her bipolar condition for enforcing the procedure.
- Italian authorities have removed two children from the mother’s care previously, having judged her incapable of taking care of them due to poor mental health. They currently reside with their maternal grandparents.
- Essex Council dispute the mother’s claim that she was not consulted, and had no time with her child after the birth.
The lines may well have been blurred in this story. Was a mother forcibly sedated to allow a caesarean section to take place as a means of forced adoption? Or were a pregnant woman and her unborn child given a medical procedure in the interests of their health, at a time when the mother was unable to consent, and a separate decision taken to place the child in care?
Well, we just don’t know. The Health Trust state ‘clinical reasons’ for the caesarean, and Essex Council argue they “liaised extensively” with the mother’s family. Yet Judge Newton, in his summary of the case, states that the mother had been “”dispatched (indeed escorted) from the UK with undue haste” and that by going to Italy “any realistic prospect of P returning to her care was diminished substantially”. It appears that the agencies involved were not necessarily successful in giving the mother the best opportunity of regaining her child.
What we do know is that the Judge has rejected a care plan put forward by the mother and her family. The mother has demonstrated continuous use of her medications and was described by the judge as “clear and articulate, indeed more so than most people I hear from the witness box where English is their first language, and English is not the mother’s first language.” She requested the child remain in care for a period not longer than one year, in order for her to alleviate concerns around her ability to remain on her medications. There was the option of temporary foster care or for the child to remain with her half-sisters who are in the custody of their grandmother. These were rejected, and the Judge ordered the child be placed for adoption.
No Happy Ending
In the final statement of his summing up, Judge Newton states:
“If in later life P (the child) reads this judgment, as she may well do, I hope that she will appreciate that her mother in particular loved her and wished for her to return to live with her and to bring her up. It is not her fault, nor P’s that that was not possible and that a predictable home could only be secured by way of adoption. P should know that the mother very much wished to parent her and bring her up and I hope that that is some small comfort both to the mother and also to P.”
Family work such as this is a thankless task. Social workers and family court judges face decisions every day for which there may be no happy ending. We don’t celebrate the daily miracles, the children saved from abuse, the families supported from dysfunction to completeness. Furthermore, the consequences of failure are so catastrophic that they necessarily make front page news. It is not unreasonable that those in the profession feel like they can’t do right for doing wrong. At the same time, a matter of such gravity in society is, rightly, never going to be just ‘left to the professionals’. It is not a matter that we can simply nod along with ‘the experts’ on. Decisions and powers that separate children from their parents are a matter for all of us. Questions about what medical procedures can be performed without our consent, are matters for all of us.
In his summation the Judge stated he was filing the adoption order “to identify and secure a permanent, predictable and stable home”.
For some, an unstable and unpredictable home environment is not ideal – but a circumstance that many children endure and overcome, and preferable to being uprooted from their family unit. For the judge in this case, it was a reason to permanently remove a child from her family.
There is no easy answer here, and no glib platitudes. But what is certain, is that the conversation about the Family Courts and the way our agencies interact with families in distress, is far from over.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________ Scriptonite Daily is a citizen funded news site. If we want to make an alternative media, then we need to build it. Your donations make the difference. Become a regular subscriber here