Can a Court Decide If a Child Should Receive Medical Treatment?
There has been huge media and public interest in the recent case of Charlie Gard whose doctors at Great Ormond Street Hospital applied to the High Court for permission to withdraw his life support as they felt there was nothing more they can do to treat his rare genetic condition.
Charlie’s parents disagreed with his doctors and wished to take Charlie for treatment in the United States. On 11 April 2017 the High Court made the decision that it was in Charlie’s best interests to allow doctors to withdraw his life support. Mr Justice Francis felt that any treatment would not be able to reverse the significant brain damage that Charlie had already suffered as a result of his debilitating condition and there was no prospect of a benefit to him from the treatment that the parents wished to pursue in the US. In his judgement said “it is with the heaviest of hearts but with complete conviction for Charlie’s best interests that I find it is in his best interests to rule that the doctors may lawfully withdraw all treatment save palliative care to permit Charlie to die with dignity”.
This case has raised important questions about the legal options available when there is disagreement about a child’s medical treatment. Usually decisions about a young child’s medical treatment are made by those with parental responsibility for the child (usually the parents) in consultation with the treating doctors. Where parents disagree between themselves on whether their child should receive medical treatment or not, then an application can be made to the Court for a Specific Issue Order and the Judge will make a decision about whether the child should have that treatment or not based on their view of what is in the child’s best interests.
In the event of a disagreement between doctors and a child’s parents, either side can make an application to invoke the inherent jurisdiction of the Family Division of the High Court and a Judge of the Division will decide what course of treatment is in the best interests of the child. The Court will appoint an independent Guardian through CAFCASS to represent the child and give an independent recommendation to the Court as to what they feel is in the child’s best interests. The Judge will listen to the opinions of the medical professionals, the parents and the Guardian but will come to a decision based on what the Judge feels is in the child’s best interests with the child’s welfare as its paramount consideration.
If you need further advice about an issue relating to your child or any family law matter, then please contact Wolferstans on 663295 and one of our team of expert family solicitors will provide you with advice and guidance on your circumstances.