Doctors' code of silence from parents, to cover up under-age sex
Daniel Martin, Daily Mail, UK, 28th September 2007
Parents will be denied the right to know if their child is having under-age sex under controversial guidelines for doctors unveiled yesterday.
Doctors were told they should not tell parents if children up to three years below the age of consent approach them for contraceptives or an abortion.
There will even be times when parents would not be informed if children under 13 are sexually active.
The General Medical Council said last night that this would apply where doctors believed an under-age patient might harm themselves or run away from home if the information were shared with their family.
The written guidance from the GMC is the first time that the medical establishment has given its blessing to the growing practice of GPs handing out condoms and authorising abortions for teenage girls, often without parents having any idea their child is sexually active.
The guidance also controversially advises that children should have the overriding decision on their own healthcare in general, meaning, for example, that a child with cancer would be able to turn down life-saving but painful treatment without their parents having a final say.
It says that in many cases doctors should tell concerned mothers and fathers to leave the room to ensure a child is as open as possible about health problems, including sexual activity.
The guidance was condemned yesterday as "wicked" by family groups, who said it effectively legitimised underage sex.
The medical establishment's formal recognition of children's rights to privacy and to make their own decisions further strips away the rights of parents, a trend which began in 1983 with the Victoria Gillick case, in which the courts told doctors not to tell parents if their daughters were on the Pill.
More recently the Children Act 2004 said that healthcare professionals, teachers and social workers should always put the well-being of children above the views of anyone else - even parents.
Nurses and sexual health charities insisted confidentiality was vital to bring down Britain's rates of teenage pregnancy, the highest in Europe.
Last year, Sue Axon from Manchester lost her fight for the law to be changed to stop under-16s seeking confidential advice on contraception and abortion.
The new GMC guidance says that if a child aged between 13 and 16 asks for advice on sexual health, for contraception or an abortion, the doctor should make an attempt to persuade them to tell their parents.
But if the child is determined not to do so, or will not give the doctor permission to tell them, the parents should not be informed.
Only under extreme circumstances should social services or the police be informed - such as if the child is having sex with a much older person.
Under the Sexual Offences Act 2003, doctors are exempt from prosecution for "aiding and abetting" child sex through providing advice if their aim is to prevent sexual infections or pregnancy. It means they do not have to inform police.
Doctors must be able to justify why they have decided not to refer cases on, though, and could be struck off if the child comes to harm.
Stephen Green of Christian Voice described the guidance as "wicked".
Doctors should respect the confidentiality of children just as they would do with adults, the guidance says.
Too often, children are afraid to go to their doctor with their parents, meaning their health needs are not met, the report adds.
It means doctors could ask parents to leave the room if they are concerned a child is not being open enough.
Some children may be mature enough to decide on which treatment they should have.
The guidance tells doctors that once a child has reached 16, it should be "presumed" they are mature enough to consent to treatment.
Parental opposition to the views of the child makes no odds.
In most cases, parents should not be told about their child's sexual activity if they are aged between 13 and 16, the GMC says.
The doctor must also be confident that the child understands the advice, is likely to have unprotected sex, and their health is likely to suffer if they do not receive the treatment.
It adds that a doctor should "usually" tell social services and parents about sexual activity involving children under 13, because the law considers them too young to give their consent.