Parents don't know best, rules High Court
By Sarah Womack, Social Affairs Correspondent
The view that parents know what is best for their children is old-fashioned and out of date.
That is effectively what the High Court decided yesterday when it endorsed the approach of the Family Planning Association and the Department of Health who say parents have no right to know if their daughter is pregnant. The Government believes that the rights of parents are nowhere near as important as the right to confidentiality enjoyed by under-16s which, it says, is crucial in reducing teenage pregnancies and improving sexual health.
Current official guidelines state: "Doctors and health professionals have a duty of confidentiality to all patients, including under-16s. This applies to the provision of advice and treatment on contraception, sexual and reproductive health, including abortion.
"Deliberate breaches of confidentiality should be serious disciplinary matters." Doctors or nurses must establish whether the sexual relationship is "mutually agreed or coercive or abusive" and discuss whether there is a "case for discussion with a parent or carer".
The guidance also states that when giving contraception to under-16s, doctors and nurses should discuss the emotional and physical issues involved in sex. The area is a highly contentious one, however, and lawyers representing Sue Axon, who lost her legal challenge yesterday, said the public would find the view on parents' rights "astonishing".
Norman Wells, a director of the Family Education Trust, said: "Children and young people generally only want to conceal things from their parents when they are doing things that are not good for them. Health professionals are not doing young people any favours by helping them keep parents in the dark. They are hardly encouraging them to value and respect their parents' role, and they are condoning underage sex with all its physical and emotional risks."
The Family Planning Association counters that parents' rights "cannot override a child's rights", and that the best interests of the child "are paramount". "Why should a child search for help from a doctor in confidence, only to have that overturned by a parents' assertion of rights?" it argues.
The number of abortions in England and Wales hit a record high in 2004 of more than 185,000. The rate of terminations has risen relentlessly since the mid-1990s. The abortion rate was highest in women under 24, but there were 157 abortions among girls under 14, up from 148 in 2003.
One in three women in Britain has an abortion and some 57,241 - 32 per cent - were on women who had already undergone at least one termination.