Tuesday 20 February 2018

Separate abortion law for teenagers in state care

Dr Tony Holohan, Chief Medical Officer at the Department of Health
Dr Tony Holohan, Chief Medical Officer at the Department of Health

Dearbhail McDonald Legal Editor

THE Government will introduce standalone laws to deal with teenage girls and children in state care who request abortions.

Some of the country's most contentious abortion actions in the courts, including the X, C and D cases, involved children under the age of 16 or children in state care.

But the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill draws no distinction between women over the age of 18, who have the right to refuse or consent to medical treatment, and underage girls, for whom there are no clear laws governing issues of capacity and consent.

The capacity of underage girls to consent to medical treatment, including lawful termination of pregnancy, was raised by legal and health professionals during the Oireachtas committee hearings on the bill.

The Government ruled out any amendments to address older teenage girls and minors within the bill, which will be debated later this week, but says that standalone legislation will now be introduced to do so.

Dr Tony Holohan, Chief Medical Officer, said he recognised and appreciated the complexities regarding the issue of consent for underage girls in relation to the provisions of the bill.

"The complex issue of consent for minors for access to medical treatment, particularly those between the ages of 16 and 18, is not covered in the bill but is one which needs to be addressed separately and in consultation with the Department of Justice and the Department of Children and Youth Affairs," said the Department of Health in a statement.

"The capacity of a young person – that is, someone under the age of 18 – and of a minor – that is, someone under the age of 16 – to consent to medical treatment in the absence of parental knowledge or consent needs to be addressed in legislation."

Patients aged 16 years and over are entitled by law to give their own consent to surgical, medical or dental treatment.

But they do not have the right to refuse such treatments and cannot consent to other areas such as organ or tissue donation or participation in medical research.

Where the patient is under the age of 16 years, parents will normally be asked to give their consent to medical treatment on the child's behalf, but the law is even less clear where under-16s seek access to medical treatment without their parent's knowledge or permission.

Irish Independent

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