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McCurrie McCurrie
& McCurrie, L.L.C.

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Best interests in case of mentally ill pregnant woman unclear

In the fields of family law and estate planning there is a foundational baseline that tends to apply across all the life facets these areas cover. It is the best interest of the individual. The key in trying to make the ideal a reality, as New Jersey-based attorneys with experience in these areas know, is in providing clarity of intent.

There are cases that can be so complex that they seem to defy rational resolution of guardianship or conservatorship issues. And yet, our courts must wrestle with them, relying on the law and ethics to provide at least some guidance. One such case out of Massachusetts provides an example.

It involves a 32-year-old pregnant woman who is known only as Mary Moe. She is mentally ill, suffering from severe schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. The issue of contention is one court's recent ruling to place her under the guardianship of her parents, who would then approve an abortion.

There are myriad points of complication. The woman is Catholic and says she wouldn't choose an abortion for herself. But there's the question of whether she's competent to make such a call. She is on medication but remains out of touch with reality. The medications could harm the fetus. If she goes off her meds, she could become a danger to herself and others. The judge said the abortion should happen, even if it needed to be done by ruse, and that the woman should be sterilized, as well.

The case is under review by a new court based on an appeals court decision. That higher court took sterilization off the table completely and suggested that the woman's own rejection of abortion ought to be honored. How the new court on the case might rule is completely in the air. The judge has closed the hearings to the public at the request of the pregnant woman's attorney.

A point to remember here is that for the vast majority of people who are competent, the right exists for them to spell out their wishes based on what they view as their best interests. They owe it to themselves to do just that with the experienced legal help.

Source: MSNBC.com, "Sterilization, forced abortion are never the answer, bioethicist says," Art Caplan, Ph.D., Jan. 19, 2012

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