THE INVOLUNTARY STERILIZATION OF AN ALLEGED MENTALLY CHALLENGED 15-YEAR-OLD GIRL

 

Ora Spitler McFarlin brought her 15-year-old daughter to a hospital under the ruse that she was there to have her tonsils removed. The girl, “Linda,” was on the receiving end of a court-ordered Tubal Ligation procedure, and when she left the DeKalb Memorial Hospital a few days later, she was unaware of her condition. It was not until some years later when she got married and attempted to have a child, that she discovered her involuntary induced surgery had left her sterile.

In the application and affidavit submitted in support of the Petition to Judge Harold D. Stump, of the Circuit Court of DeKalb County, Indiana, the mother stated under oath that Linda was “somewhat retarded” even though she had “attended public school, and had been promoted each year with her class.” She averred that Linda had been associating with older guys, staying out overnight, and tubal ligation was appropriate and necessary in order “to prevent unfortunate circumstances.”

Linda sued her mother, attorney, hospital, doctors and the judge who signed the Petition that authorized the procedure. However, the suit was dismissed as it pertained to all but the judge on the basis that she was unable to demonstrate that their actions involved state action. The case against the judge was dismissed by the trial judge upon the grounds that he was acting in his official capacity and was, therefore, immune from liability. The United States Supreme Court affirmed the dismissals in Stump v. Sparkman.

Essentially, the court held that judge was vested with jurisdiction in the case and that any “judicial acts” he took in connection with the matter, were not subject to monetary liability claims. The Dissenting Justices strongly disagreed and stated, “I think what Judge Stump did . . . was beyond the pale of anything that could sensibly be called a judicial act”. At the time of this case, Indiana law “provided for the sterilization of institutionalized persons under certain circumstances, but otherwise contained no express authority for judicial approval of tubal ligations.” The Indiana law was repealed in 1975, and the notion that parents had “certain natural rights” that enabled them to act in the so-called best interests of their children, has steadily eroded. Modern courts have taken the position that the best interest of the child governs, not the wishes of the parent. While this an older case, it still serves as a reminder that we must always remain vigilant about protecting the rights of anyone accused of, or having any mental challenges!

 

 

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