The press has recently drawn our attention to two cases where the court has made decisions about medical treatment for children. This could be an issue for other parents, particularly when they are separated. Justine Flack in the Family team considers the issue.
Charlie Gard and Alfie Evans are names we probably all recognise. Sadly, both have recently been in the media spotlight and tragically, both lost their fight for life.
They came to our attention because of that fight but moreover, the fight that their parents had with their treating hospitals. Both parents wanted to take their babies abroad for treatment. Both hospitals disagreed with that course of action. Both brought court proceedings to resolve the disagreement.
Thankfully most of us will never find ourselves in such a desperate situation. However, medical treatment for children can become an issue in some families. Parents may object to medical interventions on religious grounds and where those parents are separated and hold different views, a conflict arises.
If you find yourself in that situation then seek legal advice as soon as possible. An application for a specific issue order under the Children Act may be brought so that the court can determine whether a specific treatment should be given. Alternatively, a prohibited steps order might be required to stop an intervention where one parent is acting unilaterally. It can preserve the status quo until full consideration can be given and a final, informed decision made.
All significant decisions involving children should be made jointly between the parents. That is what parental responsibility demands. Separating from the other parents does not remove your parental responsibility; you are no less important in your child's life or less relevant to the decisions to be made about them. If you are the parent with care you have no mandate to exclude the other parent following separation.
Medical treatment for children is an emotive issue. Generally, parents know what is best for their child but sometimes that is subject to question, whether by the other parent or in extreme circumstances, the medical profession. It is then that the court can step in and take responsibility for the decision. That will be based on a determination of what is in the best interests of the child. And as we know from the cases of Charlie and Alfie, those aren't always easy decisions to make.
If you would like any further advice on this matter, please contact a member of our Family Team who would be happy to assist.