Lecture: Legal change on new and controversial medical procedures: the case of contraceptive sterilisation

Professor Penney Lewis, Centre of Medical Law and Ethics, KCL and University of London Research Fellow, School of Advanced Study
Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, Thursday 25 March, 6pm-7pm, all welcome.

Today, contraceptive sterilisation seems obviously to fall within the ‘medical exception’ which takes most medical treatment outside the criminal law. In addition to the patient’s consent, the medical exception requires a public policy justification. Contraceptive sterilisation was widely seen as unlawful in the UK until the late 1960s. This paper explores how legal change occurred in the absence of judicial or legislative intervention, contrasting the British experience with that of France, where a criminal prosecution for performing a vasectomy in 1937 meant that contraceptive sterilisation was seen as unlawful until eventual legislative intervention in 2001. I also examine the implications of this experience for legal change on other historically or currently controversial medical procedures including organ donation; non-therapeutic research; gender reassignment surgery; and amputation for body dysmorphia disorder (BDD) or body integrity identity disorder (BIID).

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