Patients can usually make their own decisions about health care. They have the right to agree to or refuse treatment. Agreeing to treatment is called “consenting” to treatment.
However, children under the age of 14 aren’t allowed to make health-related decisions on their own. The consent of their parents or a guardian (officially called a “tutor”) is always needed, whether or not the care is essential for the child’s health. For a child under the age of 14, the parents or tutor have full responsibility for all health care decisions.
Interests of the Child
When parents or a tutor make a decision about a child’s health, the only factor they’re allowed to consider are the child’s interests. This means they can’t base their decisions on their religious beliefs or on anything else that goes against the child’s best interests.
The parents or tutor must make sure the health care the child receives meets all these tests:
- is beneficial, even if the side effects of the treatment can be serious and permanent
- is appropriate in the circumstances
- the risks aren’t out of proportion to the expected benefits
The child’s opinion must be considered as much as possible. If a judge has to make a decision about health care for a child under 14, the judge must hear what the child has to say, as long as the child’s age and level of understanding allow the child to participate in the decision.
Permission from a Judge
Health care professionals must get a judge’s permission to treat a child under the age of 14 in these situations:
- The parents or tutor are refusing to agree to treatment a child needs, and there’s no good reason for the refusal.
- The parents or tutor can’t give their consent (for example, in an emergency).
- The treatment isn’t required by the child’s state of health, and the treatment poses a serious risk to the child’s health or could cause serious and permanent side effects.
For more information on consent to emergency medical care for a child under 14, see the article Emergency Medical Decisions.