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Copyright (c) 1977 Tennessee Law Review Association, Inc.
Tennessee Law Review

RECENT DEVELOPMENT: Courts--Scope of Authority--Sterilization of Mental Incompetents

Spring, 1977

44 Tenn. L. Rev. 879


Christina Norton Norris


Respondent, age eighteen, appeared before the probate court of Davidson County, Tennessee, upon a petition 1 filed by her mother alleging respondent to be mentally incompetent and seeking appointment as her conservator with authority to consent to her sterilization. Psychological test results introduced at the hearing showed respondent to be profoundly retarded with an intelligence quotient in the zero-to-twenty range. 2 Respondent also suffered from a gynecological problem causing considerable menstrual irregularities with excessive bleeding resulting in severe difficulties for herself and her mother. Two physicians recommended a hysterectomy as appropriate to solve respondent's gynecological problem as well as to ensure that respondent could have no children, for whom she would be unable to care. The probate court denied relief on the ground that it had no authority to order surgery that was desirable but not necessary. 3 On appeal to the Tennessee Court of Appeals, held, affirmed. 4 Tennessee courts have no authority to order surgery upon a mentally retarded incompetent, absent compelling necessity for the safety and welfare of the incompetent. In re Lambert, No. 61-156 (Tenn. Ct. App. Oct. 29, 1976). 5

Statutes providing for sterilization of mental incompetents 6 have been held to be constitutional as long as procedural safeguards such as notice, hearing, and judicial review have been provided for and observed. 7 The significant feature of the principal case, however, is that the state of Tennessee has no such legislation. 8 Courts generally have held that there is no ...
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