A seriously ill child, what could be more heart breaking? But it’s even more heart breaking when parents can’t agree with the doctors about the child’s medical treatment or where parents can’t agree between themselves. There’s a strong chance this question will end up in Court and it’s vitally important to consult a lawyer who specialises in this area of the law.
What happens at Court
The Court will consider the evidence from
- The doctors and the parents
- A guardian appointed to represent the child’s best interests
- Any experts instructed by the doctors, parents, or child’s guardian
The parents’ evidence
Parents can give evidence both in written statements and orally. But if parents find this prospect overwhelming their lawyer will speak on their behalf.
What parents say about their child is of course vitally important. How does the illness and the current treatment affect the child’s quality of life? Is the child able to interact with their family? Is there a strong bond between parents and child? Are the parents able and willing to care for their child?
It is also important to hear the parents’ point of view on treatment the doctors recommend.
And parents often have religious beliefs they wish to be taken into consideration.
The child’s guardian
The child’s guardian is under a duty to safeguard the interests of the child and to ensure any decisions made will protect them, promote their welfare and are in their best interests. Accordingly the guardian will consider all the evidence, and the love and care for the child that the parents demonstrate.
The Court makes a decision
The Court makes a decision following:
- Acts of Parliament
- Law laid down by previous cases
- Guidelines of professional bodies
What is in the child’s best interests
This is the fundamental question.
There may well be conflicting considerations and the Court will have to find a balance between them. This is because the best interests of the child must prevail and must apply even to cases where parents, for the best of motives, hold an alternative view.
How are the child’s best interests decided
The Court will rely on cases such as Aintree University Hospital NHS Trust v James  UKSC 67 and Kings College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust v Haastrup  EWHC 127
Following these cases, the Court must consider:
- Is it in the child’s best interests for the treatment to be given or for it to be withheld or withdrawn
- What is best for the child’s welfare in the widest sense, not just medical but social and psychological
- The medical treatment –
- what does it involve
- how high are its prospects of success
- is the outcome for the child likely to be good
- What the child’s attitude towards the treatment is or is likely to be
The preservation of life
All steps must be taken to preserve life. But this is outweighed if quality of life is low and the pain and suffering are high.
The right to life
The child has a right to life under Article 2 of the Human Rights Act. This imposes a positive obligation to provide life sustaining treatment. But this doesn’t extend to providing treatment if it would be futile and where it would not be in the child’s best interests.
The views of the parents
The Court will consider the views and opinions of the parents. But the Court will not put the parents’ wishes before the best interests of the child.
The views of the child
The views of the child must be considered depending on their age and understanding.
Guidelines of professional bodies
The Court will consider the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health guidance Making Decisions to Limit Treatment in Life-limiting and Life-threatening Conditions in Children: a Framework for Practice.
This sets out circumstances in which it may be appropriate to consider withholding or withdrawing life sustaining treatment for example where there is limited quality of life.
When Parents and Doctors Disagree About a Child’s Medical Treatment
Contact Family Lawyer Joanne Houston on 01962 217640 for an initial consultation on When Parents and Doctors Disagree About a Child’s Medical Treatment. In this 20 minute session she will review your situation and how you can achieve your objectives.
The topics covered in this blog post When Parents and Doctors Disagree About a Child’s Medical Treatment are complex. They are provided for general guidance only. If any of the circumstances mentioned in this blog apply to you, seek expert legal advice.
image for When Parents and Doctors Disagree About a Child’s Medical Treatment Happy Parents and Baby by Sheldonl on Wikimedia