Delhi HC Permits Woman to Terminate 30-Weeks Pregnancy

Pregnancy Termination

The Delhi High Court has permitted a 31-year-old woman to undergo a medical termination of her approximately 30-week pregnancy after the foetus was diagnosed with a neuro-developmental disorder.

The court emphasized that the law protects women from being forced to carry pregnancies to term when the child would be born with severe abnormalities.

Based on a report provided by a board of doctors from AIIMS, the court noted that the diagnosis indicated the child, if born, would likely suffer from severe neurological impairments and extensive health challenges due to ‘Joubert Syndrome’.

The court observed that the petitioner woman’s first child also had neurological impairments, and if the medical termination of pregnancy were not permitted, “She and her family would be compelled to care for two children with significant neuro-developmental issues, requiring extensive, continuous, and advanced medical care potentially for their entire lives.” The burden of raising two children with severe disabilities in a household with limited financial resources presents a daunting challenge that would likely severely impact the petitioner’s mental health, the court added.

“Considering the substantial risk of serious neurological difficulties and adherence to established medical guidelines, the court finds the AIIMS Medical Board’s recommendation to be well-founded in evidence and in the best interest of the petitioner’s health and the potential quality of life for the child. The petitioner is permitted to undergo medical termination of pregnancy at a medical facility of her choice,” the order said.

“The provisions of the (Medical Termination of Pregnancy) Act, in harmony with the principles of personal liberty enshrined in the Constitution, affirm the right of a pregnant woman to seek a termination of pregnancy under medically justified circumstances. This ensures that women are not compelled to carry pregnancies to term in situations where doing so would compromise their health or result in the birth of a child with severe abnormalities,” the court stated.

The court commended the AIIMS medical board for their assistance and noted that the doctors who contributed their opinions in this case shall have immunity in the event of any litigation arising out of this petition. The petitioner, represented by lawyer Amit Mishra, approached the high court after doctors at Lok Nayak Hospital, where she was being treated, denied her request for medical termination of pregnancy (MTP) on June 13.

On June 24, the court initially constituted a medical board comprising two doctors from Lok Nayak Hospital, but on July 1, it formed another board of doctors from AIIMS after the former’s report was found to be “inconclusive.” Justice Narula, in the order, emphasized that the opinion of the medical board in cases of termination of pregnancy is crucial for assisting the courts in reaching a just decision, and medical professionals must offer their expert opinions without fear of legal repercussions.

The medical board at Lok Nayak Hospital, however, did not meet the court’s expectations in this case, Justice Narula observed, noting that despite the serious nature of the matter, it failed to conduct necessary tests and did not approach the issue with the required level of seriousness. “When the court directed them to form a board, the subsequent report remained inadequate and lacked thorough testing and evaluation. Medical professionals play a crucial role in society, and it is not the intention of this court to demoralize them; yet, it is imperative to highlight the significance of their responsibility in such sensitive matters,” the court stated.

The court remarked that the delay and inadequate counseling of the petitioner resulted in an advanced stage of pregnancy and advised the medical board of Lok Nayak Hospital “on the importance of their role and the critical impact their opinions have on the lives of the petitioners and their families.”

The court noted that the negative recommendation against termination of pregnancy by Lok Nayak Hospital was due to “inconclusive diagnosis,” as they “relied upon old medical reports and scans without conducting further detailed tests.” They failed to provide a definitive diagnosis or fully assess the petitioner’s current condition. Conversely, the AIIMS Medical Board conducted comprehensive testing, including up-to-date ultrasound and fetal MRI scans, and arrived at a clear diagnosis of Joubert Syndrome.

“The Medical Board at Lok Nayak Hospital noted the fetal abnormality of Dandy-Walker Syndrome, a neurological malformation of the cranium; however, in the absence of conclusive findings, they did not advocate MTP. On the other hand, the Medical Board at AIIMS concluded that their findings suggested Joubert Syndrome, a multisystem disorder with a poor neuro-developmental outcome, and recommended MTP,” the court said.

It also noted that while Lok Nayak Hospital reported the pregnancy as being over 32 weeks, AIIMS, through a more recent ultrasound scan, determined the gestational period to be 30 weeks and four days.

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