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Law School Case Brief

Relf v. Weinberger - 372 F. Supp. 1196 (D.D.C. 1974)


Legally competent adults must give their "informed consent" to sterilization under federal funding. Such consent must be evidenced by a written and signed document indicating, inter alia, that the patient is aware of the benefits and costs of sterilization and of the fact that he may withdraw from the operation without losing federal benefits. 


Minors and other incompetents were sterilized with the use of federal funds. Plaintiffs, National Welfare Rights Organization (NWRO), brought an action against officials and the secretary, in a class action on behalf of its 125,000 members and five individual women, and all poor persons subject to involuntary sterilization under the challenged regulations, contending that the regulations allowing the sterilizations were illegal and arbitrary because they authorized involuntary sterilizations. The parties sought summary judgment.


Should the summary judgment be granted in favor of the plaintiffs?


Yes, in part.


The court granted the summary judgment of the individuals and the organization in part, holding that the secretary and the officials were permanently enjoined from providing funds under the Public Health Service Act, 42 U.S.C.S. § 300 et seq., and the Social Security Act for the sterilization of any person who was judicially declared mentally incompetent or legally incompetent. The court ordered the officials and the secretary to amend the regulations that allowed sterilization of minors and other incompetents using federal funds. The court also ordered the amendment of the regulations because they were arbitrary and unreasonable in that they failed to implement the congressional command that federal family planning funds not be used to coerce indigent patients into submitting to sterilization. No person who was mentally incompetent could meet the requirement that he have the information necessary to make his decision and the mental competence to appreciate the significance of that information.

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