High Court Highlights Parents’ Role in Making Medical Decisions

21st February 2020

The Lawyer representing the mother of an unborn child, who challenged the decision to vaccinate her baby against infection within 24hrs of birth, has today said the case sends an ‘important message’ about the rights of parents in making major medical decisions.

The mother, who cannot be identified in media reports, has Chronic Hepatitis B - an infection that could be transferred to the baby on delivery due to blood on blood contact. Hepatitis B is a disease that can be serious in nature and may lead to liver disease in some who are affected.

Recommended practice is that babies in this scenario be given an injection within 24 hours of birth, after which they receive a further set of injections to make the chance of contracting hepatitis B negligible. 

In this case, the mother was in support of the injections but was concerned about the insufficient evidence supporting the idea that the injections must be administered within 24 hours of birth. The mother did not consent to the vaccination being provided within that timeframe and sought independent advice from a consultant virologist at another hospital.

However, further to independent insight into the rationale behind the administering of the vaccine within 24hrs provided at the High Court earlier this week, and legal advice, the family’s Lawyer said the mother was ‘reassured and confident to proceed’.

At Court, Mr Justice Cobb considered the fact that anticipatory declarations were being sought in the event the parents did not agree to the vaccination, which would enable the Court to approve the injection being provided.

The declaration was ‘anticipatory’ due to the baby not being born yet - a relatively new concept for Judges to be asked to make declarations about.

Following the hearing the Judge praised the mother for undertaking her own research and considered a second opinion to have been in the best interests of her unborn child.

The judgment handed down also clarified that the joint decision in consenting to the vaccination was a positive outcome.

Caroline Hurst, a Court of Protection Lawyer at leading law firm Simpson Millar, who represented the mother in Court on a pro bono basis due to the urgency said, “The mother in this case fought admirably to ensure that whatever the outcome was, it was in the best interests of her unborn baby. 

“She carried out extensive research, sought the opinions of several medical professionals and independent legal advice, in order to be fully informed about the pros and cons of the proposed treatment. 

“This sends an important message to all parents who may find themselves in similarly uncomfortable predicaments, as it reiterates their right to challenge the decision of a clinician, and to ask for further evidence regarding the choices that have been made; choices that can be made against the wishes of the parents.

“Establishing a space in which parents can feel safe and informed about the decisions that are being made regarding their child’s health and wellbeing, is integral to ensuring that there is clear and unimpeded communication between medical professionals and those that they are caring for.”

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