Research Article

Can children withhold consent to treatment?

BMJ 1993; 306 doi: (Published 29 May 1993) Cite this as: BMJ 1993;306:1459
  1. J A Devereux,
  2. D P Jones,
  3. D L Dickenson
  1. Keble College, Oxford.


    A dilemma exists when a doctor is faced with a child or young person who refuses medically indicated treatment. The Gillick case has been interpreted by many to mean that a child of sufficient age and intelligence could validly consent or refuse consent to treatment. Recent decisions of the Court of Appeal on a child's refusal of medical treatment have clouded the issue and undermined the spirit of the Gillick decision and the Children Act 1989. It is now the case that a child patient whose competence is in doubt will be found rational if he or she accepts the proposal to treat but may be found incompetent if he or she disagrees. Practitioners are alerted to the anomalies now exhibited by the law on the issue of children's consent and refusal. The impact of the decisions from the perspectives of medicine, ethics, and the law are examined. Practitioners should review each case of child care carefully and in cases of doubt seek legal advice.