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Understanding mental capacity
Understanding mental capacity

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3.2 Extreme measures

In a democratic society, for the state to forcibly and permanently take away a person’s capacity to reproduce is by any measure an extreme act, and potentially an intrusion on their freedom and human rights. These are complex matters, and are most usually only addressed through the courts. 

In the next activity you consider two cases of forced sterilisation. 

Activity 7 Forced sterilisation

Timing: Allow about 20 minutes

Read the two short newspaper articles from the Guardian below about forced sterilisation. 

Do you think that forced sterilisation is ever acceptable, even when attempts to manage the situation through support and supervision have failed?


The issue of forced sterilisation strikes at the heart of mental capacity. The judges had to make extremely difficult judgements in both these cases. The judgement in the first hinged on the high risk to the life of the woman if she got pregnant again. In the second, the judgement was made in the best interests of the man and in light of the importance of his relationship to his stability and well-being. The point is made that these were exceptional cases.