Autonomy, age and sterilisation requests

Journal of Medical Ethics 43 (5):310-313 (2017)
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Sterilisation requests made by young, childfree adults are frequently denied by doctors, despite sterilisation being legally available to individuals over the age of 18. A commonly given reason for denied requests is that the patient will later regret their decision. In this paper I examine whether the possibility of future regret is a good reason for denying a sterilisation request. I argue that it is not and hence that decision-competent adults who have no desire to have children should have their requests approved. It is a condition of being recognised as autonomous that a person ought to be permitted to make decisions that they might later regret, provided that their decision is justified at the time that it is made. There is also evidence to suggest that sterilisation requests made by men are more likely to be approved than requests made by women, even when age and number of children are factored in. This may indicate that attitudes toward sterilisation are influenced by gender discourses that define women in terms of reproduction and mothering. If this is the case, then it is unjustified and should be addressed. There is no good reason to judge people’s sterilisation requests differently in virtue of their gender.

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Paddy McQueen
Swansea University


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