Re T (Adult: Medical treatment)

JurisdictionEngland & Wales
CourtFamily Division
Judgment Date1992


Medical treatment– adult patient – woman in labour – birth of child overdue – caesarean operation necessary to save lives of both mother and child – mother refusing operation on religious grounds – whether court would authorize carrying out of operation.

The patient, a woman aged 30, was in labour. Birth of the child was six days overdue. The child was in the position of a "transverse lie", with the elbow projecting through the cervix and the head being on the right side. The only means of saving the mother's life and that of the unborn child was by an emergency caesarean operation. The mother, supported by her husband, refused to submit herself to the operation on religious grounds.

The health authority applied to the court for authorisation to carry out the operation.

Held – granting the application: There was no English authority on the point. However, the fundamental question was left open in Re T (An Adult: Medical Treatment[1992] 2 FCR 861 [see Note below]. The position was urgent, a matter of minutes rather than hours, and a life or death situation. Therefore the application would be granted.

Cases referred to:

AC, Re (1990) 573 A 2d 1235.

T (An Adult Medical Treatment), Re[1992] 2 FCR 861.

Other cases cited:

F (In Utero), Re [1988] Fam 122; [1988] FCR 529; [1988] 2 All ER 193.

Burton v Islington Health Authority; De Martell v Merton and Sutton Health Authority[1992] 2 FCR 845; [1992] 3 All ER 833.


The question left open by Lord Donaldson of Lymington, MR in Re T (An Adult: Medical Treatment)[1992] 2 FCR 861, was stated, at p 865C, as follows:

"An adult patient who, like Miss T, suffers from no mental incapacity has an absolute right to choose whether to consent to medical treatment, to refuse it or to choose one rather than another of the treatments being offered. The only possible qualification is a case in which the choice may lead to the death of a viable foetus. That is not this case and, if and when it arises, the courts will be faced with a novel problem of considerable legal and ethical complexity."

Huw Lloyd for the health authority.

James Mumby QC as amicus curiae.


This is an application by the Bloomsbury and Islington Health Authority for a declaration to authorize the surgeons and staff of the hospital to carry out an emergency caesarean operation upon a patient, who I shall refer to as "Mrs S".

Mrs S is 30 years of age. She is in labour with her third pregnancy. She was...

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