Medical Practitioners, Adolescents and Informed Consent
January 2011 - February 2013
When can a young person withhold consent to medical treatment? Recent international, European and domestic legal developments emphasise a growing recognition of young people’s autonomy and privacy human rights.
Recent guidance from the Department of Health (2009) recognises that aspects of the law on adolescent refusals to consent have not been tested post-Human Rights Act 1998 and advises that relevant cases should be brought before a court of law.
In the course of this project a critical examination of the law on adolescent consent highlighted areas of ambiguity and proposed potential solutions. Alternative models (based on international and European examples) were analysed in order to suggest potential ways forward.
Current problems, potential reforms and possible solutions were debated in a series of workshops designed to engage experts and stakeholders from multiple disciplines.
The workshops brought together people from medical, legal, sociological and philosophical backgrounds. They covered:
- Ethical and Legal Analysis of the Role of Human Rights in Understanding the Informed Consent of Young People
- Rights, Welfare and Adolescent Consent Refusals
- Alternative Models on Adolescent Consent.
- Ways Forward
The results inform debate, practice and policy.
Articles relating to and resulting from this project include:
- Zenon Stavrinides, ‘Adolescent Patients' Consent and Refusal to Medical Treatment: an Ethical Quandary in English Law’ (2013) Issue 8 Humanicus.
- Emma Cave, ‘Goodbye Gillick? Identifying and Resolving Problems with the Concept of Child Competence’ Legal Studies, advance online publication (2013).
- Emma Cave, ‘Adolescent Consent to Medical Treatment’ In Heather Montgomery (Ed), Oxford Bibliographies in Childhood Studies. New York: Oxford University Press (forthcoming in 2013).
- Emma Cave, ‘Competence and Authority: Adolescent Treatment Refusals for Physical and Mental Health Conditions’ (2013) 8(2) Contemporary Social Science (forthcoming).
- Emma Cave, Julie Wallbank, ‘Minors’ Capacity to Refuse Treatment: A Reply to Gilmore and Herring’ (2012) 20(3) Medical Law Review, 423-449.
- Emma Cave, ‘Maximisation of a Minors’ Capacity’ (2011) 4 Child and Family Law Quarterly, 429-450.
- Emma Cave, ‘Seen but not Heard: Children in Clinical Trials’ (2010) 18(1) Medical Law Review, 1-27.
- Emma Cave, ‘Adolescent Consent and Confidentiality in the UK’ (2009) 16(4) European Journal of Healthcare Law, 309-331.
You can access the final report and a short Briefing Paper aimed at healthcare practitioners and policy makers here:
E, Cave; Stavrinides, Z (April 2013). Medical Practitioners, Adolescents and Informed Consent Project Final Report. University of Leeds. [PDF: 817KB]
E, Cave (April 2013). Young People who Refuse Life Sustaining Treatment: A Briefing Paper on Current Law and the Need for Reform. [PDF: 479KB]
*We are grateful for the financial support from the Nuffield Foundation. The Nuffield Foundation is an endowed charitable trust that aims to improve social well-being in the widest sense. It funds research and innovation in education and social policy and also works to build capacity in education, science and social science research. The Nuffield Foundation has funded this project, but the views expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the Foundation. More information is available at: