The Supreme Court has finally put to rest a unique case involving a mentally-challenged man, whose legal guardian made him undergo a bilateral vasectomy at age 24, even though he allegedly had the intelligence of an eight-year-old child at the time of the procedure.
The man—who, for confidentiality reasons was simply referred to as “LA”—was taken in as a ward in 1980 when he was two years and nine months old. This was made official six years later, when the spouses who assumed guardianship of LA received a legal appointment from a Regional Trial Court in Balanga, Bataan.
Even at his chronological age of 24, LA was established as being unable to take a bath without assistance, could not prepare his own meals, and was never allowed to go out and run errands alone. He also had no friends and only interacted with his adoptive family. His vasectomy took place on Jan. 31, 2002 at the insistence of his foster father. The procedure was performed by a qualified doctor, but only after a thorough psychiatric evaluation by a licensed medical professional.
This prompted one of the nuns from a child-caring agency licensed by the Department of Social Welfare and Development to file a formal case on behalf of the adopted individual. The complaint involved the falsification of documents and mutilation under the Revised Penal Code and/or child abuse under Rep. Act 7610 or the “Special Protection of Children Against Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination Act.” Apart from members of his foster family, the doctor who evaluated him was likewise named as a respondent.
In a per curiam decision (where the court decides as a single body, without identifying any particular judge as the author), the Supreme Court en banc unanimously denied the complainant’s petition on two grounds: first, there was a lack of party resulting from the complainant’s demise on Sept. 9, 2012 due to heart attack. Second, there was lack of an appeal from the Office of the Solicitor General. The decision proved to be yet another win for the accused and their counsel Jose A. Bernas, who was able to dismiss the criminal complaints against them.
Due to the novelty of the issues regarding vasectomy and cognitive disability, the court and a number of individual justices expressed separate opinions on the case, specifically on whether or not a bilateral vasectomy constitutes child abuse or a form of cruelty, and if LA qualifies as a child under the law. Ultimately, however, the individual justices used the “best interests of the child” test, and found no evidence that the vasectomy was not in the best interest of LA.