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Ethics briefing
  1. Sophie Brannan,
  2. Ruth Campbell,
  3. Martin Davies,
  4. Veronica English,
  5. Rebecca Mussell,
  6. Julian C Sheather

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Re AA and Re P (A Child): the ‘forced caesarean’ case

On 30 November 2013 The Telegraph reported that Essex County Council Social Services had obtained a High Court Order against a woman that allowed her to be forcibly sedated and her child removed by caesarean section and taken into care.1 The original story reported that the woman, an Italian national who had been in the UK on a short-term basis for work, had experienced ‘something of a panic attack’ and, after calling the police, was compulsorily detained under the Mental Health Act 1983. Five weeks later, the report said, she was restrained, forcibly sedated and awoke hours later to find that, pursuant to a court order obtained by Essex County Council Social Services, her baby had been removed by caesarean section and taken into care by social workers.

The story was subsequently reported in a number of other media outlets and prompted such widespread outrage that the presiding judge, Mr Justice Mostyn, took the unprecedented step of releasing both the judgement of the initial application to the Court of Protection and the verbatim transcript of proceedings. It became apparent that the facts of the case had been drastically misreported by the media and that coverage had conflated two very separate issues: the medical procedure of the caesarean section and the taking of the child into local authority care.

The initial case heard in the Court of Protection on 23 August 2012, Re AA,2 was the result of an application made not by the local authority or social workers seeking to remove the child but by Mid-Essex National Health Service (NHS) Trust seeking a declaration and an order, on the basis of medical evidence, that the patient lacked capacity and that it would be in her best interests to undergo a caesarean section. Mr Justice Mostyn found in …

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  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; internally peer reviewed.

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