A pregnant woman was sedated against her will and her baby removed by caesarean section and taken into care after instructions from social services, it has been claimed.
Essex social services obtained a High Court order against the woman that allowed her to be forcibly sedated and her child to be taken from her womb. The council said it was acting in the best interests of the woman, an Italian who was in Britain on a work trip, because she had suffered a mental breakdown.
The woman, who cannot be named for legal reasons, suffered from a bipolar condition but had failed to take her medication. Despite speaking to the woman’s mother in Italy on the telephone, who explained the mental health problems, police took her to a psychiatric hospital.
In February, the mother, who had gone back to Italy, returned to Britain to request the return of her daughter, but a judge ruled that the child should be placed for adoption because of the risk that the woman might suffer a relapse.
The girl, born last August, is now close to being adopted by a British couple, despite a court hearing that her mother had recovered and was giving clear and articulate evidence as she pleaded to keep her.
The judge who heads the family courts, Sir James Munby, has said they must be open to the public, but no information concerning any element of the treatment of the Italian mother has been made public by the courts or by Essex County Council, the local authority responsible for the baby, reports the Daily Mail.
The case provoked a wave of anger from MPs and patient pressure groups, with one MP describing social workers as “dictators who are unaccountable and out of control”.
Mr. Hemming, who is the chairperson of the Public Family Law Reform Coordinating Campaign, said: “She wanted to go back to Italy to have her child naturally.
“If somebody is a bit ill and then they are sectioned then that does not make them better. There was a situation where obviously the thing to have done was to get this woman back to Italy and stabilise her.
“I cannot see why it would have been that difficult to get her back to her family and her two children.”
The case has developed into an international legal row, with lawyers for the woman describing it as “unprecedented”. Brendan Fleming, the woman’s British lawyer, told The Sunday Telegraph: “I have never heard of anything like this in all my 40 years in the job.
“I can understand if someone is very ill that they may not be able to consent to a medical procedure, but a forced caesarean is unprecedented.
“If there were concerns about the care of this child by an Italian mother, then the better plan would have been for the authorities here to have notified social services in Italy and for the child to have been taken back there.”
The Italian High Court has expressed its outrage at this treatment of an Italian citizen but it appears that the British courts have the jurisdiction. Director of the Human Rights Group, Liberty, Shami Chakrabarti, has expressed the sense of shock and dismay felt by many on hearing of this woman’s plight, “At first blush” she said “ this is dystopian science-fiction unworthy of a democracy like ours.” She went on to say, “Forced surgery and separation of mother and child” is “the stuff of nightmares.”
An Essex County Council spokesman said: “Essex County Council does not comment on the circumstances of ongoing individual cases involving vulnerable people and children.”