Making Decisions about Medical Care

  • You can consent to medical treatment if you are 16 or older, or if you are under 16 but understand what is going on
  • If you can’t consent, someone with parental responsibility should make the decision about whether you should have the medical treatment or not
  • Sometimes, doctors can treat you without consent

It’s very important that you or someone responsible for you gives permission before a doctor or nurse examines or treats you. This permission is called ‘consent’. Sometimes, you won’t be asked specifically if you agree to something happening. But if you don’t want an examination, or treatment, you can say so. Even if you are not old enough to consent yourself, the doctor and the person who will consent for you should listen to what you have to say.

Apart from emergencies and some other very specific reasons, a doctor who treats you without your consent, or the consent of someone with parental responsibility for you, could be breaking the law.

‘Consent’ is about giving someone permission to do something. If you go to see a doctor or got to hospital or somewhere else for some kind of medical examination, or treatment, you need to agree for it to happen. To be able to agree and give your permission, you have to be able to understand what the examination or treatment is, and what might happen.  This is called ‘capacity’. You have to agree yourself, without pressure from anyone else on you to make a decision one way or the other. You also have to have been given all the information about the treatment or procedure, including any risks of the treatment, and what might happen if you don’t go ahead.

If you aren’t able to consent to medical treatment, because you’re not 16 and you do not have capacity, then someone with parental responsibility can give consent for the treatment on your behalf. That person has to be able to understand what is happening so that they can consent about treatment for you.

Sometimes, if someone has been in a bad accident or something has gone wrong for them and their health, they may end up being kept alive but unable to communicate what they want to happen. If this were to happen to you, the doctors would talk to your parents or the people with parental responsibility for you to discuss what would be the best thing to do. If the doctors and your parents agree, then they will be able to go ahead and do what is necessary to keep you alive. If there is a disagreement about what should happen, the courts will be asked to decide.





We are very grateful to Irwin Mitchell Solicitors for generously giving their time and expertise to check the content of this section of the website. October 2018.