CHILD psychologists in Australia have condemned a colleague's decision to allow a 15-year-old boy with terminal cancer to have sex with a prostitute before he died.
The case has sparked an intense ethical debate while arousing considerable public sympathy. The identities of the boy, who died last week, and the psychologist have not been disclosed as the specialist concedes that what happened was illegal.
Details of the extraordinary case emerged when the psychologist anonymously contacted a Sydney radio station, days after his patient's death.
Without speaking to his parents, the boy had apparently told staff at a Sydney hospital believed to be the Royal Alexander Children's Hospital of his desire to lose his virginity.
When the boy's psychologist canvassed opinion among colleagues, he said there was an initial suggestion to organise "a whiparound to pay for a prostitute".
The idea was rejected on legal grounds, but a group of friends were later allowed to escort the boy out of hospital and take him to a prostitute in King's Cross, Sydney's red-light area. His parents were not consulted.
The specialist said the boy's greatest wish had been to experience sex with a woman, adding: "He was very, very happy, and only disappointed that it was over so quickly."
The radio station was inundated with telephone calls and e-mails in support of the psychologist's action. However, Australia's medical establishment has accused him of overstepping his role and potentially damaging the dying boy's relationship with his parents.
However, the hospital psychologist insists that he acted correctly. "He'd been sick for quite a long period and his schooling was very disrupted, so he had not had many opportunities to acquire and retain friends," said the specialist. "But he was very interested in young women and was experiencing that surge of testosterone that teenage boys have."
"It was a part of therapy," he said, "People talk about a trip to Disneyland being therapeutic. What's the difference?"
(Daily Telegraph, London)