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Passage of Illinois House Bill 2290 Adds Crucial Due Process Protection Governing Sterilization of Adults With Disabilities
Date:5/18/2009

Equip for Equality's Judicial Victory Leads to Legislative

Reform for Adults with Disabilities Under Guardianship

CHICAGO, May 18 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Today, the Illinois General Assembly passed legislation to ban the sterilization of adults with disabilities under guardianship without due process. In so doing, the reproductive dignity of adults with disabilities under guardianship has been preserved. The bill, HB 2290, will now be sent to Governor Quinn.

Previously, there was no requirement that a guardian of an adult with a disability petition the court to authorize a ward's sterilization. In recognition of the fundamental rights at stake, and the history of involuntary sterilization of people with disabilities, most states have enacted statutes to provide due process protection for wards facing this life-changing, and potentially traumatic, situation. Prior to today, Illinois was one of only 16 states failing to provide statutory protections.

"Passage of this legislation is long overdue and critical to the protection of the fundamental rights of people with disabilities," said Zena Naiditch, founder and CEO of Equip for Equality. "Despite having legal guardians, people with disabilities retain basic rights regarding their own bodies and irreversible reproductive decisions. We call on Governor Quinn to put an end to the tragic history of involuntary sterilization and take a giant step forward for human rights by immediately signing this bill into law."

After obtaining a landmark decision in the Illinois Appellate Court upholding the denial of a petition for involuntary sterilization of a 26-year-old woman, Equip for Equality set to work on obtaining a permanent statewide policy change. In the court case, the young woman's guardian sought to have her ward permanently sterilized. In the bench trial and in conversations with the guardian ad litem, the young woman, who had a traumatic brain injury as a result of a car accident at age eight, had made it clear she did not want to be sterilized.

"The legislation is very significant because before 2008, Illinois guardians and doctors could choose involuntary sterilization behind closed doors," said Katie Watson, Assistant Professor in the Medical Humanities & Bioethics Program at Northwestern University who worked with Equip for Equality on HB 2290. "This legislation codifies many principles from the appellate court decision, such as guaranteeing men and women with disabilities a court hearing. That moves the decision into the light and keeps the focus on their interests."

"Sterilization is an extreme, irreversible measure. It impacts an individual's constitutional rights to procreation and privacy," said Marsha Koelliker, Equip for Equality's Public Policy Director. "Under the legislation, only a court may impose such a result on an adult ward with a disability, and, when a ward lacks capacity, only following a hearing on the merits in which the ward is afforded full due process protection."

Among other things, HB 2290 amends the Illinois Probate Act by requiring:

  • A guardian seeking to sterilize an adult ward to file a motion requesting the court's authority to consent to such a procedure;
  • Appointment of a guardian ad litem;
  • A medical and psychological evaluation of the ward;
  • A determination by the court of the ward's capacity to consent or withhold consent to the proposed sterilization; and
  • A court order that includes written findings of fact and conclusions of law.

Representative Kathleen A. Ryg introduced HB 2290 and was Chief Co-Sponsor in the House, along with Representatives JoAnn D. Osmond, Barbara Flynn Currie, Lou Lang and Sidney H. Mathis. Senator Heather Stearns picked up the bill in the Senate and was Chief Co-Sponsor along with Senators Michael Noland and Pamela J. Althoff. Equip for Equality worked in coalition with the Cook County Office of Public Guardian, Office of State Guardian, Feminist Response in Disability Activism, and the ACLU of Illinois to draft the bill. Equip for Equality appreciates their work and that of other organizations in supporting passage of the bill. The Chicago Foundation for Women provided crucial funding to support Equip for Equality's lobbying efforts.

Equip for Equality is a private, not-for-profit legal advocacy organization and is the federally mandated Protection and Advocacy System designated to safeguard the rights of people with physical and mental disabilities. A copy of HB 2290 can be found at www.ilga.gov.

CONTACTS:

Marsha Koelliker, Public Policy Director

(312) 341-7313, marsha@equipforequality.org

Cheryl Jansen, Legislative Policy Manager

(217) 544-6013, cherylj2@equipforequaliy.org


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SOURCE Equip for Equality
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