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The Truth Behind the “Forced Caesarean” Story

The Truth Behind the “Forced Caesarean” Story

Undoubtedly you’ve been reading about the Italian woman who was reportedly forced to undergo a caesarean without her knowledge or her consent in 2012.

Alessandra Pacchieri was visiting the UK for a training course when she called the police. She had reportedly suffered from a mental breakdown. Concerned for her well-being, the police took her to a hospital, which she then realized was a psychiatric facility. She told her lawyers that when she said she wanted to return to her hotel, she was restrained and sectioned under the Mental Health Act.

Pacchieri says she was kept in the dark about the proceedings, and that after five weeks in the ward she was forcibly sedated. When she woke up she was told that her baby had been removed by caesarean section.

According to the statement of facts released by Essex County Council and reported in BuzzFeed:

The Health Trust [in the county of Essex, UK] had been looking after the mother since 13 June 2012 under section 3 of the Mental Health Act. Because of their concerns the Health Trust contacted Essex County Council’s Social Services.

Five weeks later it was the Health Trust’s clinical decision to apply to the High Court for permissions to deliver her unborn baby by caesarean section because of concerns about risks to mother and child.

The mother was able to see her baby on the day of birth and the following day. Essex County Council’s Social Services obtained an Interim Care Order from the County Court because the mother was too unwell to care for her child.

Historically, the mother has two other children which she is unable to care for due to orders made by the Italian authorities.

While the story is tragic and heartbreaking, the Telegraph’s original report appears to have misreported many of the facts, causing much confusion. Their story suggested that social workers did not consult the woman’s family. However, new reports show that they liaised extensively with the extended family before and after the birth of the baby to establish if anyone could care for the child, which was in accordance with Essex County Council’s Social Services practice.

The Telegraph also said that, “Essex social services obtained a High Court order in August 2012 for the birth ‘to be enforced by way of caesarean section.’” In fact, the caesarean was not ordered by social services, but was performed “for a medical reason (the risk of uterine rupture) rather than prompted by a desire to remove the child from the mother,” according to the ruling and transcript of proceedings for the earlier Court of Protection judgement, as reported in BuzzFeed.

While no woman should have her baby forcibly taken away from her without her consent, it is also true that Pacchieri, according to the judgement, was “profoundly unwell,” and that when not taking medication for her bipolar disorder, she suffered “very intrusive paranoid delusions.” These delusions are so extreme that her two older children are being raised by their grandmother, for their own protection. Her mental condition was much more severe than a panic attack, as The Telegraph’s original story claimed.

The case has developed into an international legal row, with lawyers for the woman describing it as “unprecedented.”

The Italians are also upset. The cause has been raised before a judge in the High Court in Rome, which has questioned why British care proceedings had been applied to the child of an Italian citizen “habitually resident” in Italy. The Italian judge accepted, though, that the British courts had jurisdiction over the woman, who was deemed to have had no “capacity” to instruct lawyers.

The baby girl is now 15 months old and still in the care of social services in the UK, who are refusing to give her back to the mother, even though she claims to have made a full recovery from her mental illness. The British judge in this case faced an agonizing dilemma, knowing that the mother’s health was improving, yet not convinced that her condition would remain stable. After stating that “a child’s best chances are by being in a secure placement by the time he or she is nine months old, whether that be within the birth family or otherwise,” the judge makes it clear that it is the child’s best interests that must be paramount.

The final paragraph of the judgement, in which the judge addresses the baby herself later in life, is painful to read:

“If in later life P [the child] reads this judgement, as she may well do, I hope that she will appreciate that her mother in particular loved her and wished for her to return to live with her and to bring her up. It is not her fault, nor P’s that that was not possible and that a predictable home could only be secured by way of adoption.”

As a parallel to this, Clfavia Dzodan, writing in Red Light Politics, discovered the desperate words of this mother (translated from Repubblica):

“I want my daughter back, I am suffering like an animal. I was forced into a C-Section without my consent. The day of the forced delivery I thought they were moving me from one room to another while I kept saying I wanted to return to Italy. Then I was sedated and when I woke up, she was gone. She was taken away from me.”

Speaking like a wounded mother, Alessandra Panchieri, 35 years old, from Chainciano. She is the woman who suffers from bipolar disorder whose daughter was taken away in Essex, England. […]

While this is truly a complex and tragic story, and is clearly not a black-and-white case of right versus wrong, this story does reveal an egregious disregard of women’s rights. As a mother, I cannot imagine a more horrific assault on my body.

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Photo Credit: thinkstock

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7:27PM PST on Jan 2, 2014

so very sad, but then if the baby were returned and something like the Andrea Yates case occurred, everyone would be furious that the child was returned to such an unstable person. Why did she neglect to take her meds?

1:27AM PST on Dec 16, 2013

Mauvette Joesephine has sent you a Green Star of appreciation!

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7:28PM PST on Dec 12, 2013

I'm confused.

7:56PM PST on Dec 11, 2013

very sad, hope the family raising the girl is teaching her Italian so she can communicate with her mother and family in Italy

3:03PM PST on Dec 11, 2013

Thanks for the whole story.

4:47AM PST on Dec 11, 2013


10:12PM PST on Dec 9, 2013

very sad situation.

9:34PM PST on Dec 9, 2013

For a woman in her circumstances, late pregnancy would be a stressful time under the best of conditions. She was in a foreign country taking a training course, which in itself would put her in unfamiliar surroundings and under a lot of pressure. My heart really goes out to her.

8:39PM PST on Dec 9, 2013

Tragic for all involved

6:52PM PST on Dec 9, 2013

very sad situation. support mental health research. mental illness can strike anyone, any age.

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Julie M. Rodriguez Julie M. Rodriguez is an arts, green living, and political writer based in San Mateo, CA. Her work... more
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