Australia regards itself as a champion of human rights, but in 2011 the United Nations Human Rights Council has detected an abuse - the involuntary sterilisation of women and girls with disabilities (report, 86.39). Now a Senate committee has launched an inquiry.
According to National Disability Discrimination Commissioner Graeme Innes, it appears that unauthorised non-therapeutic and forced sterilisation is still common in Australia. "I'm seeking the criminalisation of forced sterilisations," Mr Innes told the Sydney Morning Herald. "It should be a criminal offence for any adult to be sterilised without consent and for any child at all, apart from life-saving circumstances."
Dr Leanne Dowse, of the University of New South Wales, told the ABC that some doctors are prepared to sterilise disabled women. "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," she said.
Dr Margaret Spencer, of the Intellectual Disability Rights Service, in Sydney, has two disabled foster daughters. She argues that being disabled is often no barrier to being a good parent, if the right support is in place. "They're very hurt, they feel betrayed, they feel denied something [fertility] that is in essence basic to them," she says.
The World Medical Association recently took a strong stand on forced sterilisation at its general assembly in October. "Sterilization of those unable to give consent would be extremely rare and done only with the consent of the surrogate decision maker," it declared.