Earlier today I ran into a story on BBC about a 13 year old from florida who was denied the right to an abortion by a court.
On the face of it it seems like a simple Woman’s right to choice debate (something which I must say at this point I wholeheartedly support), which seemed to be unfortunately how most of the usual suspects in these arguments were taking it. The ACLU was going to appeal the decision, and no doubt the christian right was going to praise the judge, and everyone was going to go on missing the point that the judge had made the right legal choice, since the case has nothing to do with right to life.
Instead, it was all to do with the girl’s ability to provide valid consent for the termination proceedure, seeing as she was only 13.
For those of you who are medically educated this will not be new, however for others of you out there this may be unfamilar, and thus I felt it was worth educating you on.
Most countries and states define an age at which adolescents can make medical decisions independant of their parents (often 16), and below that age the parents or legal guardians are responsible for providing consent for medical interventions for the child which are necessary and in the child’s best intersts.
The exception to this arises in the situation where the child is considered to posess Gillick Competence. This is where a child is not yet at the age of consent, but is able to demonstrate that they understand the nature of the proposed medical proceedure, and more importantly, that they understand the abstract implications of deciding for or against undertaking the proceedure. If they can do this, then many juristictions will allow children to provied consent without parental input.
In the florida case, the 13 year old girl was not denied an abortion on “right to life” moral grounds, but rather on the basis that her legal guardian (in this case the state) was able to convince the judge that the girl was not old enough or mature enough to make the decision herself, and as such her guardian (the state) was still responsible to making decisions as to what it thought was in the girl’s best intersts.
Of course the intesting thing is that only 4 years ago I wouldn’t have know anything about gillick competence, and would have probably been ranting from the other perspective of how the girl’s rights had been trampled by a conservative judiciary. It’s interesting how education modifies morality by opening your eyes to previously unseen options and perspectives.