The One Memory of Flora Banks by Emily Barr, follows the story of 17 year old Flora Banks who has no short-term memory due to anterograde amnesia. Until one party and one boy changes everything, Flora cannot even remember her name but for some reason she remembers this particular encounter. After a series of emails, and a master plan made by Flora Banks, she decides to travel across the world to see him once her parents are away. Without anyone to care for her and remind her to take her medication, she becomes very ill and her dad has to rescue her. After this adventure, Flora worsens and it is revealed that her mum has been rejecting a new treatment for years, which could really improve Flora’s condition. We are left with a cling-hanger as we learn that Flora’s dad and her best friend are trying to help her receive the new treatment as soon as she turns 18 – the legal age to make your own medical decisions. This book highlights some of the issues children can face when it comes to consenting to medical treatment.

Your rights

Once you turn 18 you are a legal adult and can therefore make your own medical decisions, you are assumed to have the mental capacity to make decisions for yourself – unless it is otherwise established.  Generally, anyone over the age of 16 can consent to medication and treatment for themselves as they are treated as an adult. Therefore 16-17 year olds can consent to surgical, medical and dental treatment themselves under section 8 of the Family Law Reform Act 1969 (unless there is enough evidence otherwise). In Flora’s case, although she is 17 due to her amnesia she is unable to make informed decisions for herself. Children under the age of 16, will have to pass something known as the ‘Gillick competence test’ to show that you understand all the aspects of the proposed treatment. Article 12(1) of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child 1989 states that children who are capable of forming their own views have the right to express these views freely, the weight given to your view will depend on your age and maturity.

Can your decision be overruled?

Although children under the age of 16 can consent for themselves in most circumstances (if they are deemed to be competent), anyone with parental responsibility still holds some power as to the decision. A person with parental responsibility can be a parent, guardian, or a local authority. Even if you are seen as competent under the Gillick test, if you refuse treatment which may be life-saving then your decision can be overruled. The court cannot allow you to hurt yourself more by refusing treatment, those with parental responsibility should always have your best interest in mind. Young people aged 16 to 17 may also be unable to consent for themselves if they lack the capacity under the Mental Capacity Act 2005: Flora Banks was unable to consent for herself due to this, by definition of the act Flora had an impairment of the mind which affected her capacity to understand the treatment and consent. However remember that if you are 16 or 17, medical professionals should not give information to anyone about you without your consent.

What if my parent or guardian refuses the treatment?

If you are under 16 and your parent or guardian refuses to consent for you, they may be prosecuted for neglect if they disagree with a procedure that could save your life. The court could become involved in your case and order treatment under section 8 of the Children Act 1989, this is called a specific issue order and can order a certain action for a single issue such as a vaccination. If one of your parent of guardians consents but the other refuses treatment, the court would still become involved as doctors are weary of giving treatment when there is conflict.

Removal of organs after death

In Wales, it is always assumed that you have consented to donate organs unless there is clear proof that you did not consent. Every person over the age of 18 is deemed to have consented unless they opt out of donating on the NHS website. If you are under 18, you can talk to your family to express your wishes so they can act on your behalf after death.

It is important to know your rights and how the law protects you in Wales. There are lots of different situations in which you may need to know this information, Flora’s case was quite difficult but it is calming to know that the law will protect her. You can read more about how the law protects you in different situations on our pages!

My name is Zuzanna Cybulska and I am a third year law student at Swansea University. I aspire to be a family lawyer so this project is really important to me. I volunteer a lot within the university and outside of it to gain insight into helping families and vulnerable people, so I can always do my best to help! It is vital for everyone to know their rights so they can be safe and get the help they need if anything goes wrong. I have always enjoyed reading and do so a lot myself, I just finished reading a book called ‘Norwegian Wood’ by Haruki Murakami, this is a book about a boy and his experiences through university in Japan with a focus on finding love. It is a relatable book with some tragic and heart breaking situations.