Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Australian parents get court permission to castrate sons

Two little boys will have their testes removed after a court allowed their parents to authorise the procedure to prevent them developing potentially fatal cancers. The boys, aged 18 months and three years, have been diagnosed with Denys-Drash syndrome, which is so rare they are thought to be the only two people in Australia who have it. Known by the pseudonyms Russell and Sean, the boys are not related.

Caused by a genetic mutation, Denys-Drash syndrome is associated with a high risk of developing potentially fatal tumours on the kidneys and testes, as well as the development of ambiguous genitalia. Surgery has been proposed for each boy to prevent cancers growing, but it involves removing their kidneys and their testes, leaving them sterile.

The sensitive issues surrounding the proposed treatment were examined in the Family Court, where a health authority in an unnamed state sought orders that the parents of each boy be allowed to authorise the surgery and any attendant treatment for their sons. The parents supported the application. The medical consensus was that the syndrome was likely to render Sean and Russell infertile, even without the removal of their testes. The court has previously held that the decision to sterilise a child is a special case, requiring authorisation from a source other than the parents to ensure the child's protection.

In the present case, Justice Peter Murphy found that a decision about whether to authorise the surgery fell within the scope of parental powers, and the key issue was what was in the best interests of the children. ''In my view, the law should tread very lightly in seeking to intrude in, or impose itself upon, those decisions,'' Justice Murphy said. Justice Murphy ruled that the proposed treatment would achieve the best long-term outcome for each child, physically and psychologically, and declared that the parents of each boy were permitted to authorise and consent to the surgery on the child's behalf.

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