Stranger Than Fiction

Italian Woman Says British Doctors Forced Her to Have a C-Section, Took Her Baby

An Italian woman who traveled to Britain while pregnant says doctors forced her to have a C-section and took her child from her. But did mental illness play a role?

Alessandra Pacchieri was heavily pregnant when she traveled to London for a flight attendant training course. She accepts that she suffered some form of mental health episode while she was in Britain, but says that is no justification for what happened next.

Pregnant woman

John Paul Armstrong/Getty

The Italian citizen was involuntarily sectioned, sedated, and subjected to an enforced C-section, before her child was taken into the custody of the British state against her will. Her lawyer in Italy told The Daily Beast that the mother only saw the baby girl twice before she was taken from her.

This nightmare turn of events struck the 35-year-old woman in August 2012. The baby, now 15 months old, is on the verge of being permanently adopted by a British family despite members of the Italian’s family have offering to raise the child, including an uncle who lives in Los Angeles, California.

Campaigners, Italian politicians, mental health experts and a British MP who has been in close contact with Pacchieri say the case is unprecedented and have demanded to know why the child was taken.

“Why did this whole swath of things happen to someone who was just visiting the country?” asked John Hemming, MP and Chairman of Justice for Families Campaign Group. He said the silence surrounding Britain’s family courts, which operate almost entirely in secret, could contribute to terrible decisions going unchecked. “People do things wrong and it’s never corrected, they can talk complete rubbish in secret courts and no one corrects them… it’s no good at all,” he told The Daily Beast.  “The easiest solution is to send the case to Italy.”

The saga began in the spring of 2012, when the woman enrolled in a Ryanair training program at Stansted Airport in Essex, where she was training to be a flight attendant for the airline.  According to Ryanair’s recruitment service Crewlink, all candidates to enter the program must demonstrate good mental health.  She was pregnant with her third child at the time.  The baby’s father, a Senagalese man residing in Italy, was no longer involved with her when she moved to England for the course.

In June 2012, according to court documents in both England and Italy obtained by The Daily Beast, the Essex Social Services had Pacchieri committed to mental health care to treat the “profound” symptoms of her bipolar disorder. She was apparently not managing her medical treatment, and her condition had deteriorated to such an extent, authorities were fearful she would harm her unborn child. 

In August 2012, as she neared her due date, she suffered through several “invasive panic attacks” and “paranoid delusions” that caused her attending physicians concern that she would harm the baby, according to the documents.  The doctors petitioned the Court of Protection, which acts on requests for people who cannot give their own consent, to ask that the baby’s birth be scheduled as a Caesarean section. The child was born on August 23, 2012.

According to the British court ruling, issued in February 2013 but only made public this week, the presiding judge felt that the removal of the child was the only option. “She was profoundly unwell,” the document read.

Marjorie Wallace, the chief executive of the mental health charity SANE, raised serious issues over the ruling. “We are concerned that a decision was made in this disturbing case to remove the baby after birth while the mother was still acutely ill,” she said. “There are thousands of women with this condition who have successfully brought up children. The secrecy that surrounds cases like these reinforces fear and damages the confidence of people and families affected by bipolar disorder.”

Pacchieri stayed in the hospital in Britain until October when her lawyer said she was “escorted” back to Italy after asking to leave care.  According to the Essex court document, that move may have cost her custody of her child.  “I know she wanted to go to Italy but by going to Italy any realistic prospect of [the child] returning to her care was diminished substantially,” writes Judge Roderick Newton in the Essex court reasoning, who said he regretted that she was allowed to leave the United Kingdom. “It is for that reason it seems to me that it was a most ill-advised thing to have occurred. I was critical at the time and I remain critical to this day.”

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Back in Italy, Pacchieri began fighting another battle. She had lost custody of her other two children, aged 14 and 11, who had been removed from her care because she refused to take medication necessary to control her mental illness, according to Panorama magazine.  The children, who both had American fathers but who were no longer in contact with the mother, lived with their grandparents, who had at one point petitioned the Italian court to restrict visitation rights, according to documents from the Italian family court in Florence.

Since the news emerged this week, the Senagalese father, who is unemployed, said he would take his daughter back.  The mother’s uncle, who lives in Los Angeles, has also filed a petition with the Florentine court to take custody of all three of the children and care for them while their mother receives treatment in the United States.  Another American relative who lives in Italy has also come forward offering to take care of the children. All requests have been either ignored or denied.

The woman’s lawyer has filed several complaints to try to stop any adoption from going forward without further review of the case. He told The Daily Beast that his client’s treatment was “straight from Hitler’s playbook.”  He said his client, who has apparently sold her story to the Daily Mail for a hefty sum and who would not give interviews without payment, is distraught over the loss of her children.  He called her treatment “inhumane and disgusting.”

“In my entire legal career, I have never heard of any case in modern times where a woman is forced to have a medical birth without her consent,” he said.  “This would have never happened in Italy no matter how unwell a mother is.”  The lawyer has tried to engage the Italian embassy in London, Italy’s Foreign minister and high court of Italy to help return his client’s child.  “No one has helped,” he said.

The saga has caused outrage in Italy where the mother now lives and works as a caregiver for an elderly couple in Tuscany. People who know her are all aware of her mental disability, but those interviewed by the Italian press said that she was not dangerous.  “I have not given my consent—either verbal or written—to allow for my daughter to be put up for adoption,” the woman told La Repubblica last weekend. “I am suffering like an animal over this.”