‘Our legal responsibility … to intervene on behalf of the child’: Public Responsibilities in relation to Children’s Medical Treatment
Cases concerning children’s medical treatment are largely understood as judicial resolution of disagreements between a child’s parents and clinicians over the child’s best interests. When these cases occur, they tend to be high profile and attract much academic attention. However, in many cases law, including some of the leading cases such as Re B (1981), Re J (1990) and Re W (1992), were not disputes but occasions when the court was asked not only to determine the child’s best interests but also to clarify the applicable law and the roles of the local authority, Trust, court and child’s parents. To ensure that the interests of vulnerable children are protected it is crucial that decisions are made in the public forum of the court and that the interests, or welfare, of the child are the paramount consideration. This places cases concerning children’s medical treatment within the context of public obligations, as recognised in the quote above from David Plank, the Director of Social Services responsible for bringing the case of Baby Alexandra before the courts, and requires a re-conceptualisation of the private nature of decisions concerning children’s medical treatment.
Jo Bridgeman is Professor of Healthcare Law and Feminist Ethics at the University of Sussex. Jo’s research adopts a critical feminist perspective informed by and developing the feminist ethics of care in consideration of parental, professional and state responsibilities to children. Jo has published widely on the medical treatment of children, including: the care of children with complex needs; parental responsibility for children undergoing treatment for cancer; withholding/withdrawal of life-sustaining treatment from a child; issues arising from the Bristol Royal Infirmary Inquiry.