In 1996, Brazier and Bridge raised the question ‘is adolescent autonomy truly dead and buried’ following judicial decisions which had seemed to reverse the Gillick-inspired trend for greater child autonomy in healthcare. Subsequent decisions by the courts have reinforced the view that those below 18 years in England and Wales remain children with limited rights to refuse treatment compared with adults. This is at variance with the daily experience of those working with young people who increasingly seek to actively involve them in making freely informed decisions about their healthcare, in accordance with the principles enunciated in the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child and the UK Children Acts. We review the derivation of the law in England and Wales in this area, in the light of another recent family court judgement enforcing treatment on a ‘competent’ child without his or her consent and ask: ‘How can the Common Law and the ethical practice of those caring for young people have diverged so far?’ Either young people can decide whether to have a recommended treatment, or they cannot. Given Ian McEwan's book, the Children Act, has stimulated wider social debate in this area might this be an opportune moment to seek public policy resolution with regards to healthcare decision making by young people? We argue that events since the Gillick case have underlined the need for a comprehensive review of legal policy and practice in this area. While absolute autonomy and freedom of choice are arguably inconsistent with the protection rights that society has agreed are owed to children, healthcare practitioners need clarity over the circumstances in which society expects that autonomous choices of adolescents can be overridden.
- Minors/Parental Consent
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