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   Case summaries      Re F Mental patient sterilisation

Re F (Mental patient sterilisation) [1990] 2 AC 1

F was a 36 year old woman. She had a serious mental disability caused by an infection when she was a baby. She had been a voluntary in patient in a mental hospital since the age of 14. She had the verbal capacity of a child of two and the mental capacity of a child of 4. She developed a sexual relationship with a fellow patient. Her mother and medical staff at the hospital were concerned that she would not cope with pregnancy and child birth and would not be able to raise a child herself. Other methods of contraceptives were not practical for her. They sought a declaration that it would be lawful for her to be sterilised. F was incapable of giving valid consent since she did not appreciate the implications of the operation.


The declaration was granted. It would be lawful for the doctors to operate without her consent.

Lord Goff:

"It is well established that, as a general rule, the performance of a medical operation upon a person without his or her consent is unlawful, as constituting both the crime of battery and the tort of trespass to the person. Furthermore, before Scott Baker J. and the Court of Appeal, it was common ground between the parties that there was no power in the court to give consent on behalf of F. to the proposed operation of sterilisation, or to dispense with the need for such consent…. If such treatment administered without consent is not to be unlawful, it has to be justified on some other principle. Upon what principle can medical treatment be justified when given without consent? We are searching for a principle upon which, in limited circumstances, recognition may be given to a need, in the interests of the patient, that treatment should be given to him in circumstances where he is (temporarily or permanently) disabled from consenting to it. It is this criterion of a need which points to the principle of necessity as providing justification."
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