Parental consent is a legal gray area, one that different countries tackle in different ways. How much legal authority can a parent have over their child’s life? Where do the wishes of a parent end and the rights of a child independently of their parent’s wishes begin?
Generally speaking, parental consent is supposed to end when harm begins. As straightforward as that sounds it is actually anything but, and different countries allow different levels of leeway before the courts step in and determine that a parent cannot make a certain decision for their child. For example many countries allow parents to decide to physically discipline their children while others, like Sweden, do not allow any form of corporal punishment. Some countries allow parents to refuse certain kinds of medical treatment on behalf of their children based on their personal or religious beliefs, while others do not.
A few days ago, a UK court set a legal precedent by ordering a mother to vaccinate her two sons after determining that her concerns were not reasonable.
We all know that certain children cannot be vaccinated for a variety of legitimate medical reasons. Children who are severely immunocompromised, for example, or children who have an allergy to a component of the vaccine. Her concerns were not based on a suspicion of any real medical diagnosis, however. She was refusing to vaccinate her children on the basis that they are vegan, toxin-free, and that their strong immune systems would inherently protect them against all those nasty diseases anyway.
I am so very, very glad that the judge came to this decision.
As happy as I am that these two boys will receive proper preventative care, it must be said that their father was a strong defender of their health in this case. He brought the case forward, he testified that she was over-protective, paranoid and mistrustful of conventional medicine, and he fought for their ability to be vaccinated from the beginning. With a parent on either side of this issue, I am sure that it was much easier for the courts to come to the right decision in this case. But what about children who have the misfortune of being born to two paranoid, overprotective and mistrustful parents? Who will stick up for their right to access to health care? While I love this step in the right direction, the battle for the protection of children’s health is far from over.
I understand that legal intervention into how a parent raises their children must be expanded with extreme caution. A country which nitpicks your parenting choices, or a state-imposed “correct” way to raise your kids is a country that no one wants to live in. However, it is also important to remember that children are people, not property. They may be too young to make certain decisions for themselves, but they are human beings nonetheless, and as such they should have certain rights and protections under the law. Personally, I think that access to lifesaving health care should be one of those things that every person, regardless of their age, should have a legal right to.
I am curious to see how this story progresses, and if a test case involving both parents refusing to vaccinate their children will come up. Let’s see if the UK courts take a stand on behalf of all children.