Journal of medical ethics vol:25 issue:3 pages:237-41
Doctors are regularly confronted with requests for sterilisation of mentally handicapped people who cannot give consent for themselves. They ought to act in a medical vacuum because there doesn't exist a consensus about a model for decision making on this matter. In this article a model for decision making is proposed, based on a review of the literature and our own research data. We have attempted to select and classify certain factors which could enable us to arrive at an ethically justifiable method of making a medical decision. In doing so we distinguish two major criteria: heredity and parenting competence, and six minor criteria: conception risk, IQ, age, personality, medical aspects and prognosis and finally support and guidance for the mentally handicapped person. The major criteria give rise to a "situation of necessity". In this situation the physician is confronted with a conflict of values and interests. The minor criteria are of an entirely different ethical order. They can only be considered once the major criteria have created a "situation of necessity". Ultimately it comes down to deciding whether the benefits of sterilisation outweigh the drawbacks and whether the means are appropriate to the end, where efficient contraception is the end and irreversible sterilisation is the means.