Benjamin Bull

There is a growing so-called “children’s rights” movement that is attempting to hijack parental rights, and, as a result, prematurely end the life of ill children.

A recent article in the Journal of Medical Ethics outlines the “suffering” and “torture” supposedly inflicted by parents who insist on continued medical treatment for their sick children. The authors of the review, Dr. Joe Brierley and Dr. Andy Petros, two pediatricians from Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children in London, argue that subjecting children to treatment—when, in their opinion, a child is terminally ill—is “inhumane.”

In fact, they argue that continuing to medically treat a child when doctors have given up hope could constitute a breach of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which prohibits “torture.”

The two doctors reviewed 203 cases at the hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care unit, where parents were advised that life support systems should be turned off for their children because recovery, in the view of the hospital staff, was unlikely. Seventy percent of deaths at the unit resulted from withdrawing medical care.

As the authors explain, the religious beliefs of parents “can lead to children being potentially subjected to burdensome care in expectation of ‘miraculous intervention.’” And since the children being cared for are usually “too young to subscribe to the religious beliefs by their parents,” doctors should not be beholden to the parents’ faith in determining care.

In sum, as Executive Director of the National Secular Society Keith Porteous Wood put it, “The experience and advice of doctors must not be held ransom to [parents’] religious beliefs, however strongly held.” In other words, the doctor should substitute for the parent in determining treatment and care of the child. The fact that this argument arises in the context of a government-run healthcare system makes it all the more troubling.


Benjamin Bull

Benjamin Bull is an attorney with the Alliance Defending Freedom.