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Family Law

The leading authority on all aspects of family law

16 MAY 2013

Parental religious beliefs when making decisions for terminally ill children

Duncan Ranton

Consultant Solicitor, Bishop & Sewell LLP:

Last year, specialist practitioners from Great Ormond Street Hospital reviewed common themes emerging in a sample of cases involving the treatment of terminally-ill children.  They looked in particular at those cases where parental religious beliefs came into conflict with medical opinion about ending invasive and intensive care.  They concluded that better legal and ethical mechanisms were needed to ensure rapid resolution of such disputes.

This article looks at the first aspect of that conclusion, and questions whether it is justified.  It reviews the analogous run of cases about disputed medical treatment involving the Jehovah's Witness community.  It identifies lessons learned that might be adapted to ensure better management of tensions between parental religiosity and medical opinion. 

It then looks to the judicial approach to resolving conflict about end-of-life treatment of children.  How are such cases currently determined?  What weight is actually accorded to parental religious views about treatment?  What other considerations inform the decision-making process about what is in the child's best interests?

The article ends with some observations on, and suggested changes to, the process of decision-making about end-of-life care for children.  It looks in particular at changes in approach prior to any dispute entering the court arena that might better serve the children and families affected.  

The full version of this article appears in the June 2013 issue of Family Law.    

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