Thursday, 13 November 2008

Hannah Jones gets to die with dignity

Hannah Jones is a 13 year old English girl with a terminal condition. The local hospital wanted to ensure that she had a heart transplant, an operation that would not have extended her life by much.

She refused to have the operation.

The local child welfare officers, convinced that the refusal was her parents' doing, threatened to take Hannah off her parents. The hospital threatened to obtain an injunction to enable the operation to proceed.

The madness only stopped when Hannah was able to convince all and sundry that she wanted to die with dignity, did not want to have the op and that she had made the decision.


This case highlights some of the usual issues when children's rights, parents' responsibilities, law and medicine intertwine.

It can be possible for orders in say the Supreme Court, Family Court or the Federal Magistrates Court to be made to ensure that a child receives adequate medical care because one or both parents won't allow that to happen.

Child welfare officers do remove children from families where the parents fail to ensure that proper medical care is given to the children.

What is the standout about this case is that Hannah made a decision that adults have to make - should I or should I not have this particular treatment, and was clearly mature enough to make the decision.

Hannah's case is a classic example of the Gillick competence test in practice. The Gillick competence test was named after a decision in England's highest court, the House of Lords, Gillick v West Norfolk and Wisbech Health Authority in which children, depending on their maturity, might be able to consent to their own medical treatment without their parents' consent.

Gillick was approved in Australia by the High Court in Re Marion (a case about whether parents had the power to have their intellectually disabled daughter sterilised. The High Court held that the parents did not have that power, but that the court did).

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