Medical Treatment & Your Children

medical care

‘When Parents & Medics Collide’

Caring for a sick child comes with the territory of being a parent. From teething to the latest stomach bug to hit the school playground, all of us will have spent many a sleepless night nursing a crying child, trying our best to comfort them and wishing that there was something more we could do to make them feel better.

Thankfully, for most of us, a child’s sickness is fleeting – coughs are soon replaced by chuckles, and peace (as well as sleep!) returns to your home. However, for parents faced with looking after a seriously or chronically ill child, life is much more challenging.

The case of Aysha King

There is no better example of the difficulties faced by such parents than the case involving five-year old cancer sufferer Aysha King.

Aysha became the topic of much media and legal debate when his parents removed him, without his doctor’s knowledge, from hospital during his treatment for a brain tumour. They took Aysha abroad in a bid to get alternative treatment for him. It was reported that this treatment was unavailable on the NHS in the hospital that Aysha was being treated in, but it was treatment that Aysha’s parents, strongly believed would help him.

Aysha’s parents would say that they were trying to do what they believed was best for their very ill son. The UK authorities disagreed and legal applications were made to try and have Aysha returned to the UK against his parent’s wishes.

This case highlights the difficulties faced when parents and doctors are at loggerheads as to thebest way to medically treat a minor child.

It begs the question : –

Who should have the ultimate say when it comes to deciding what is best for a child in terms of medical care?

Parental Responsibility

In Northern Ireland, parents or relatives with ‘parental responsibility’ of a child have the right to consent to medical treatment on behalf of that child, provided the treatment is in the best interests of the child.

In the vast majority of cases, both the parents and the medical professionals treating a child will be in agreement as to the best course of treatment.

In practice, doctors are reluctant to override a parent’s strongly held views, particularly where both the advantages and disadvantages of treatment are finely balanced and it is unclear as to what is in the child’s best interests.

What if doctors and parents don’t agree on what is the best course of medical treatment for a child??

Where a doctor believes that a child’s parents are following a course of medical action which is not in the child’s interests, they can seek for the Court to decide on what is best for the child; meanwhile they will provide only emergency treatment to the child to preserve life or prevent serious deterioration in their condition.

Likewise, should parents wish a child to have treatment which a doctor feels is inappropriate, the parents can issue Court proceedings and ask the Court to decide what is in the child’s best interests.

What factors will a Court look at in these cases?

When considering all cases of this nature, the Court shall have regard to the human rights of both the parents and child.

Ultimately, however, the Court will consider the child’s welfare as the overriding consideration when looking at cases like this.

It is therefore unlikely that parents would be permitted by the Court to do the following:-

  • To proceed with medical treatment which is thought to be inappropriate.
  • To refuse medical treatment which is in the child’s best interests.

For example, where a child requires a blood transfusion to treat a serious illness, the refusal to agree to this treatment by a parent who objects because of their beliefs as a Jehovah’s Witness is unlikely to be deemed by the Court to be in the child’s best interests.

It goes without saying that in the event of a dispute between parents and medical professionals, all possible alternatives should be discussed thoroughly between the parties in an effort to reach an agreement before seeking the Court’s intervention.

Sympathetic and sound legal advice during this challenging time can help support parents making difficult decisions in their child’s best interests.

As always, we invite your comments on this topic – do you agree with the law?? Or do you believe parents should always have the final say when it comes to treatment of their children??
If you require more information on this topic, feel free to contact Claire or Karen directly.

Having Contact with Your Children

parent

Relationship breakdown is a very painful time for the adults involved, but it can be even more difficult for children.

Children within the family are often the innocent and confused casualties of the breakdown of a relationship.

What if I can’t agree contact arrangements with my ex-partner?

Many parents are able to agree between themselves arrangements for their children which enable them to continue to enjoy a relationship with both parents.

For many other families contact arrangements cannot be agreed.  Some parents choose to engage in mediation as a means of trying to negotiate a solution.

Where mediation is not suitable or has proved unsuccessful, an application can be made to Family Courts to resolve the issue of contact.

Children proceedings are dealt with by the Family Proceedings Court – in this Court,  the child’s best interests are the primary concern. This means that the main focus will always be on the welfare of the child first, rather than the rights of either parent.  It is a commonly held view that (if safe and appropriate) a child should enjoy a relationship with both parents.

What will the Court look at when deciding on contact arrangements?

Each family is a unique group of individuals and in considering an application for contact, the Court will look at the particular circumstances of the child and family in question.   Contact arrangements will differ depending on the circumstances of each family.

The views and the feelings of the child involved are also taken into account and a Court Children’s Officer (who is essentially, a Court-appointed Social Worker) may be asked to speak with the children individually to try to ascertain what these are.

How much weight is given to a particular child’s wishes will depend upon the age and understanding of that child: for example the views of a 14 year old child would weigh more heavily in influencing decisions than those of an 8 year old child.

Additionally, a child will not be forced to have contact with someone they are afraid of or who harms them in any way.

What is a Contact Order?

Contact Orders are Court Orders which set out the arrangements for when the non-resident parent can see their children.

Contact arrangements can vary in each case and therefore there are many different Contact Orders which a Court could make including the following:-

  • Indirect Contact – for example,  the exchange of letters, cards and e-mails between parent and child with no regular visits
  • Direct Contact – regular weekly contact between the child and parent
  • Overnight Contact
  • Holiday contact – for example, additional contact at Easter, summer or Christmas.

Contact can also be supervised in cases where the Court directs that a relative or social worker must be present during visits.

How do Court proceedings conclude?

In most cases, Orders are made by agreement between the parents with the help of their legal advisors; this is the most preferable method, as Orders which are made with the consent of both parents are much more likely to work successfully in the future and reduce antagonism between the parties. However where agreement cannot be reached, the Court will fully hear arguments from both parents and will ultimately make a Contact Order which is deemed to be in the best interests of the child.

When seeking a Solicitor to deal with this particular kind of case, it is important that you look for not only legal representation and good negotiation skills; your Solicitor should be understanding and be capable of supporting mothers and fathers through this difficult period in life whilst progressing towards a workable arrangement which is in your child’s best interests.

If you require any further information, please contact us below or email us at info@fhanna.co.uk