Today, the High Court ruled that Sue Axon’s campaign to ban confidential medical treatment for children under sixteen is unlawful.
Mrs Axon is a mother of five. She wanted the law changed so that girls under sixteen can no longer be given advice, treatment for sexually transmitted diseases or an abortion without their parents being informed. One of her own daughters is due to give birth this March on her seventeenth birthday.
Mrs Axon claims that not being informed of the intimate details of her children’s sexual health appointments “undermined” her as a parent. She believes that if medical professionals respect her child’s privacy and grant him or her the same rights to medical privacy as a legal adult, her own human rights under the European Convention are being violated.
Here’s a direct quote:
“Having endured the trauma of abortion, I brought the case to ensure that medical professionals would not carry out an abortion on one of my daughters without first informing me. I could then discuss such a life-changing event with her and provide the support she would need.”
Hmm. “Having endured the trauma of abortion”. Not exactly a neutral perspective. It doesn’t take Miss Marple to work out that her “support” would come with a very firm agenda.
She also says she wished to change the law so that “our children can be protected from potentially damaging advice offered by professionals who do not know them.”
The very fact that members of the medical profession do not have a personal relationship with their patients means they can be as objective as any person could possibly be. Let’s not delude ourselves: the average age for loss of virginity in Britain is well under the legal age of sixteen. Fourteen is a closer bet. If a child of fourteen or fifteen – or even younger – is having sex, they need access to contraceptive advice, sexual health screening and emergency measures (such as the morning after pill or abortion) if they conclude, after considering all options carefully, that this is what they need.
If they’re old enough to have sex and mature enough to seek proper medical advice, they are old enough to decide who to talk to about it.
If a nurse told a 14 year old boy that they had to call his mother before dishing out his monthly allocation of free condoms, they’d scarcely have time to look up before he pelted out of the door at top speed. Result? Well, if he’s unlucky, perhaps a local flurry of STDs and another teen pregnancy, easily prevented if that embarrassment factor had not been introduced. Any child responsible enough to seek contraceptive advice should be applauded, not humiliated.
If a doctor told a 15 year old girl that her parents had to be involved before she could gain access to abortion advice, she may well attempt to take care of matters herself with a few of the old bottle of gin/hot bath/throw yourself down the stairs type ‘remedies’. Worst still, there may once again appear a market for backstreet abortionists, for girls whose religious or fiercely moral parents would forbid them to undertake the medical procedure of their choice.
I’m sure Mrs Axon would not want to think of any girl taking her chances with a thug and a knitting needle. I’m sure she would prefer to convince herself that a parental right to be told would have no effect on the numbers of children who seek legitimate medical treatment in a responsible, adult way. But I believe she is wrong.
Luckily, so does the High Court. Kids, go and get yourselves kitted up with contraceptives. Get yourselves checked for STDs. Remember you can always talk to someone in confidence if things go wrong. This is your business and yours alone, and it’s going to stay that way. Just as it should.
The real tragedy here is not that Mrs Axon lost her fight, or that she considers her own “human rights” eclipse her child’s right to impartial advice, but what it says about her experience of parent-child relationships. Many children are so emotionally close to one or both parents that they would seek help and advice from them as a first resort. They would trust their parents to do the best for them. They may ask a parent to accompany them to a medical appointment, or ask them for input in the decision making process, without fearing that the parent would seek to impose their own rigid views on them. I can’t help feeling that a parent who demands a new law to allow her to barge uninvited into her children’s bedrooms is clearly not very close to her children at all.