Sex and the Sacred: Sterilization and Bodily Integrity in English and Canadian Law

Savell, Kristin
October 2004
McGill Law Journal;Oct2004, Vol. 49 Issue 4, p1093
Academic Journal
Through an examination of cases of nonconsensual sterilization for learning disabled persons in Canada and England, this article considers the role that law plays in framing the thoughts, beliefs, and norms that fashion the way we think about bodies, sex, gender, and sexuality. The author asks how it is that Canadian and English law, while both claiming to protect bodily integrity, have reached opposing conclusions about whether non-therapeutic sterilization can be in a person's best interests. She hypothesizes that the answer could lie in the manner in which courts have constructed the bodies of learning disabled men and women in the sphere of sexuality and reproduction. Where the overriding concern in the sterilization cases is the containment of the sexuality of a learning disabled person perceived as "out of control" or "vulnerable to seduction", sterilization is cast as a just and humane solution that will advance the welfare of the individual concerned. Conversely, where the overriding concern is the preservation of the integrity of a law committed to the principle of equality, sterilization is thought to be a violation of the bodily integrity of the person. The author shows that these two views engender very different legal and cultural discourses about best interests and bodily integrity. The debate highlighted by the sterilization cases and the commentary surrounding them reflect larger tension within legal discourse between the commitment to liberal values and the maintenance of a particular social order.


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