The COVID-19 vaccine rollout is well underway now in Scotland, and while the vaccine is not currently available to children, it may be in the future. Questions might then arise over children and vaccinations more generally. For example, what happens in terms of childhood vaccinations where parents cannot agree? Here, we discuss these issues and what might happen in such situations.
Any medical treatment, such as vaccinations, will usually require consent from the patient. In cases where the patient is a child, medical staff will seek consent from the parents as they will normally have rights and responsibilities when it comes to their children.
A child can consent to medical procedures when they reach the legal age of capacity, which is 16 years old in Scotland. It might be possible for a child to give consent before they turn 16, provided that the doctor believes the child fully understands the situation and the potential consequences of the decision.
Parents have automatic rights and responsibilities in relation to their children, with the mother acquiring these when the child is born and the father when his name is included on the birth certificate. As such, it can get very complicated when both parents cannot agree on a matter that directly affects the child.
These rights and responsibilities are outlined in the Children (Scotland) Act 1995 and will play a part if the parents disagree over medical treatment. The 1995 Act states that one of their responsibilities is to "safeguard and promote the child's health".
In these situations, one parent cannot overrule another. Everyone involved would be encouraged to reach some kind of agreement. S6(1) of the Act states that when making decisions regarding their children, each parent must consider the views of anyone else with parental responsibilities. In the same section, the parents are also encouraged to seek the child's views with children aged 12 and over presumed to be of sufficient age and maturity to form a view.
Medical professionals will not treat if disagreement continues. The next stage to resolve this issue will be the courts which, under s.11 of the Children (Scotland) Act 1995, can make an order in relation to parental rights and responsibilities.
The primary consideration for the court is the welfare of the child. The court will only make an order if doing so is better than not making an order, meaning the order must be in the child's best interest. This is the approach the court will have in relation to any issue concerning the medical treatment of a child, including vaccinations.
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