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Injection of pragmatism

The MMR jab case Re B gave the Court of Appeal the opportunity to clarify its position on contested medical treatment of children, says Charles Foster

19 September 2003

People with parental responsibility for a child often lock horns over whether or not that child should have medical treatment. Such disputes often reach the court. What are ‘best interests’? The law is clear enough: the court must order what is in the child’s best interests. But ‘best interests’ are wider than medical best interests. It is not good enough simply to say the medical evidence is conclusive and the order must necessarily follow the judge’s preference for one expert medical view over another. To compel medical treatment will often seriously affect the relationship between the child and those with parental responsibility. The effect on those relationships may itself be highly material to the overall best interests of the child. The classic case is the Jehovah’s Witness child. It may be clearly in the child’s medical best interests to have a blood transfusion, but if the transfusion would lead to the child being cold-shouldered by its ...

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