Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Disclaimer: The Parliamentary Library does not warrant or accept liability for the accuracy or usefulness of the transcripts. These are copied directly from the broadcaster's website.
Senate considers forced sterilisations of dis -

View in ParlViewView other Segments

ELEANOR HALL: Now to a practice that many Australians may be shocked to find is legal: the forced sterilisation of disabled people.

A Senate committee is now looking at whether it should be made illegal for parents to coerce their disabled children into having procedures to prevent them having children.

The UN is pushing for the practice to be banned and the Federal Government says it is looking at possible changes.

Tom Nightingale reports.

TOM NIGHTINGALE: In one submission to the Senate inquiry, a mother explains the decision to stop her intellectually disabled daughter becoming pregnant.

MOTHER (voiceover): Her own life is not stable enough to support another life.

The reality is if this person had a child, that child would be dead within a week.

Human services would have to be involved.

TOM NIGHTINGALE: Her daughter is 27 and had a contraceptive device implanted four years ago to manage her periods.

The mother says she wouldn't make the decision for anyone else, but with much thought and agonising, she says her daughter should never have a child.

MOTHER (voiceover): Why would we wait until tragedy strikes and then in hindsight wish things had been different?

TOM NIGHTINGALE: Doctor Margaret Spencer works with a legal service for people with disabilities in Sydney, and has two foster daughters who are intellectually disabled and are mothers themselves.

She says she felt the same when one of her daughters became pregnant eight years ago.

MARGARET SPENCER: I can totally empathise with this mother.

My heart was, you know - my heart sank. It was, like, how are we going to deal with this?

My reaction was one of, "she can't go through with this".

And I'm a person who's an advocate in this area, I educate in this area, I have my PhD in this area, so I know where this mother is coming from.

But it's also not my place to take away my daughter's - something that's very integral and very much part of who she is as a person.

TOM NIGHTINGALE: Her two foster daughters are raising Doctor Spencer's five grandchildren, none of whom are disabled.

Doctor Spencer says women with disabilities are coerced into contraception or abortions.

MARGARET SPENCER: I had one mother who'd had three terminations done by her local doctor.

She thought it was her first child, she didn't realise the three times before that she'd been pregnant.

And it was only that her mother went to the doctor and said to the doctor what was happening for her daughter, and he said, "That's a shame because if she'd come here I could have dealt with it like the other ones."

TOM NIGHTINGALE: She says there's now a solid body of evidence that being disabled is often no barrier to being a good parent, if the right support is in place.

MARGARET SPENCER: They're very hurt, they feel betrayed, they feel denied something that is in essence basic to them.

TOM NIGHTINGALE: Advocates say that when a woman is too severely disabled to raise a child, other contraception is more appropriate.

As the inquiry submission shows, parents of women with disabilities are also mindful of the rights of the child.

INQUIRY SUBMISSION (voiceover): Advocates who say she has the right to have a child need to factor in her ability to be responsible for that child.

TOM NIGHTINGALE: At the moment, sterilisations must be approved by the Family Court or a state guardianship tribunal.

The disability discrimination commissioner, Graeme Innes, says some parents sterilise their disabled daughters without approval and it should be a crime to do so.

Doctor Leanne Dowse from the University of New South Wales says the method is widely known.

LEANNE DOWSE: It's well-known that you're able to doctor shop, so that there will be doctors who will be prepared to perform not necessarily full hysterectomy, but around things like endometrial ablation and other kinds of very invasive and very traumatic procedures which have the same effect, or young girls might be sterilised.

But actually the procedure might be against their mother's Medicare number, for instance.

That's an example that's been told to me.

TOM NIGHTINGALE: The Senate inquiry has begun because the UN wants non-therapeutic sterilisations banned in Australia, including those without consent.

In a statement to The World Today, a spokeswoman for the Attorney-General, Nicola Roxon, says much of the law that governs sterilisation is at the state and territory level.

She says the Federal Government will consider the outcomes of the Senate inquiry.

The inquiry is taking submissions until next February.

It's due to report late April next year.

ELEANOR HALL: Tom Nightingale.