I’ve been rather incensed recently with the story in the news about the parents who took their child out from a hospital in Southampton against medical advice.
Apparently, we are no longer allowed to disagree with medics.
In one of the most disgraceful breaches of human rights, the doctors called the cops, had international arrest warrants released against the parents, and split the family up for several days.
All because the parents didn’t agree with the doctors’ opinion.
Who is it that gives consent for treatment of their child? Parent or doctor? It has to be the parents. As the doctors are the ones offering the treatment it would be unethical for them to also be the ones giving consent.
So, within such a system, it is up to the doctors to ensure that they provide ALL information to their patients and guardians in order for them to give informed consent. Implicit within this system is that the patient or guardian can disagree and refuse to give consent.
The only circumstances by which parental consent can be overridden is when the child disagrees (and we need to make sure that they have not been coerced by pissed off medics) or were there is already documented evidence of abuse or neglect. Refusing treatment of your child is not abuse. There are many many reasons why parents may disagree with their child’s treatment plan that has nothing to do with being abusive. In fact, it is the medics who are being the abusers by forcing treatment on a child for who parental consent has not been obtained.
Basically, it comes down to this: who has ultimate responsibility for a child’s welfare (i.e., who is legally responsible?). If it is the parents, then it is them who have to give consent but are also criminally liable for neglect and abuse. If it is the state, then they need to give consent but, equally, they are criminally liable when the shit hits the fans. While the latter would make its own self sustaining industry it also means lots of social workers and medics in court on criminal charges. Scotland is looking to put in place a loosely based system on the latter, which a care worker assigned to every new born child, which seems a legal and ethical minefield very similar to what I have outlined above.
It’s a slippery slope. Already some people with mental health and neurological conditions are deemed to be incapable of giving consent. Are we really sure that medics in these situations are really giving guardians all the information necessary to make informed consent for family members? Given the number of abuses of this system reported online, I very much doubt it. Children cannot give consent, so their parents do. Are we going to erode this system too? Are we saying that parents are either too thick to understand the complex medical terminology or too neglectful to care? If you think that then you need to hope that the medics are the ones that have the child’s best interests at heart rather than furthering their career. If a child’s treatment, for example, is actually a part of research study, then the medic most definitely does not have the child’s best interests at heart.
Parents have a right to deny treatment for their child. It isn’t abuse, it isn’t neglect. Instead of considering the motivations of the parents, consider the motivations of the medics. Medics abusing their power in this way is an erosion of our human rights and liberties and must be fought. Otherwise, you could find yourself in hospital with doctors ignoring your wishes and doing whatever they like “in your best interests”.