Understanding mental capacity
Understanding mental capacity

Start this free course now. Just create an account and sign in. Enrol and complete the course for a free statement of participation or digital badge if available.

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.

Take your learning further

Making the decision to study can be a big step, which is why you'll want a trusted University. The Open University has 50 years’ experience delivering flexible learning and 170,000 students are studying with us right now. Take a look at all Open University courses.

If you are new to University-level study, we offer two introductory routes to our qualifications. You could either choose to start with an Access module, or a module which allows you to count your previous learning towards an Open University qualification. Read our guide on Where to take your learning next for more information.

Not ready for formal University study? Then browse over 1000 free courses on OpenLearn and sign up to our newsletter to hear about new free courses as they are released.

Every year, thousands of students decide to study with The Open University. With over 120 qualifications, we’ve got the right course for you.

Request an Open University prospectus371