Can Young Children Consent to Their Own Medical Treatment?
It can be difficult for any parent to take their child to the doctors for medical treatment. No matter how old your child is, you will always feel a huge amount of responsibility for them and want to ensure that correct decisions are being made regarding their health. But did you know there are situations where young children can consent to their own medical treatment?
Medical consent does not always come down to you as the parent. Until recently, most parents were not aware of this but disputes relating to COVID-19 vaccination for children under 16 has highlighted to a wider audience that there are situations where the young person can make that choice should their views differ from that of their parents. This article will be discussing those situations in more detail.
Young people aged 16 or over are entitled to consent to their own treatment. Although some parents may still feel like this is a young age, it is believed that young people over the age of 16 are presumed to have sufficient capacity to make decisions on their own medical treatment. For this consent to be overruled, it would have to be an exceptional circumstance.
Typically, children under the age of 16 would have someone with parental responsibility to consent for them. This could be the child’s mother/father, legally appointed guardian, a local authority designated to take care of the child, a person with a residence order concerning the child or a local authority/person with an emergency protection order for the child. For more information about parental responsibility, click here.
There are instances where a child under the age of 16 can consent to their own medical treatment without the need of their parent/guardian. Young children consenting to medical treatment will seem alien to most people, so it is very important to clearly understand the legal framework.
A young person will be able to give consent if they are believed to have enough intelligence, competence and understanding. They will need to fully acknowledge what their treatment will involve and how it can help them. A child who has this understanding is known as being Gillick competent. This legislation relates to England and Wales.
The parent will not decide whether their child is Gillick competent. Instead, the GP will have to follow a process that will help them make an informed decision on whether the child is able to consent to their own treatment. They will need to take certain factors into consideration like the child’s age, maturity, and mental capacity. This article from Incision explains Gillick Competence in more detail to help you gain a clearer understanding of what it entails.
Can Consent Be Overruled?
There may be cases where a Gillick competent child refuses a certain treatment. However, there are instances where this can be overruled. If the refusal of a treatment can lead to death or severe/permanent injury, then their decision can be overruled by the Court of Protection. They will overrule the decision on the basis that it is in the child’s best interest.
The Court of Protection is the legal body that oversees the operation of the Mental Capacity Act (2005. Although a person with parental responsibility can consent for treatment if their child refuses, it has been suggested that going through the courts is the best thing to do in this situation.
Parental Advice on Gillick Competence
As a parent, it can be a daunting thought to let your child make their own medical decision. It is important to note that this feeling is normal as they are your responsibility. However, you can certainly use the internet to your advantage. There is an abundance of online forums for parents who are also learning about Gillick competence, and you can also find out plenty of information online through blogs and articles.
There can be many reasons why a child may need medical treatment and, in most instances, young people under 16 will be happy to follow the route suggested by their parents or legal guardians. However, COVID vaccination for young people is a much-debated topic. Many parents feel that their young children are too young to have a vaccination when no-one can categorically affirm what the long term impacts may be; but many children take the view that they should be vaccinated not so much to protect themselves, as only a very small number of young children are likely to be seriously ill if they do get COVID-19, but to play their role in stemming the spread of this terrible disease; clearly, a very mature and admirable approach, especially if they have vulnerable family and/or friends they are concerned about. Additionally, there is often a great deal of peer pressure to be vaccinated.
Young children consenting to medical treatment such as vaccination that their parents have opposed is likely to be an increasing situation.
For parents, it is recommended that you do your own research as it can help to put your mind at ease about medical consent in the future and, in the shorter term, the approach you may need to take relating to COVID vaccination if this is an area of concern.