Sterilizing incompetent drug-addicted women

By Cristiane Avancini Alves

A court in Brazil recently held that the mother of a drug-addicted adult woman (who is pregnant and who already has three children) may seek the court’s authorization for the tubal ligation of her daughter provided the daughter is unable to manage her own affairs. The Brazilian health system has received an increasing number of requests for sterilization in the last years, but according to the Family Planning Law, which is based on the principle of informed consent, sterilizations in such circumstances may only be carried out if the woman is legally incompetent.

Such cases clearly raise a number of concerns. For example, sterilization should generally be considered to be an irreversible procedure which deprives the woman of her fertility, and it does nothing to treat the woman’s addiction or help her avoid resorting to prostitution in order to obtain drugs.

One approach to the problem is so-called “dialogical assistance”. This involves the consideration of each case by physicians, psychiatrists and social workers who assess the woman and establish her competence and informed consent to sterilization, and only then consider approaching the courts to authorize sterilization. This procedure can indicate a practical application of patient autonomy and the beneficence principle in social and legal spheres.

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    About Cristiane Avancini Alves

    Cristiane Avancini Alves is a Professor of Law at UniRitter – Laureate International Universities in Porto Alegre, Brazil, and Researcher at the Bioethics Service of the University Hospital of the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS), Brazil. She graduated in Social Communication – Journalism (1998) and Law (2001), holds a Master Degree in Private Law (2005), and a Ph.D. in Law from the Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna, Pisa, Italy (2009).

    One thought on “Sterilizing incompetent drug-addicted women

    1. The case described above does pose a number of concerns. The problem of the woman’s addiction is not being given a solution. With sterilization considered an irreversible procedure, the woman is deprived of the ability to give birth in future. Meanwhile, she may still be prostituting with all that this entails:spreading a possible disease, committing crime, etc.