A 14 year-old boy with HIV should begin antiviral treatment, a court has ruled, despite opposition from his parents.
In Re JA, the boy’s parents were also HIV-positive. However, Mr Justice Baker explained, his foreign-born parents “have been reluctant to accept the diagnosis. They have challenged the mainstream and scientific opinion on HIV and AIDS.”
They also believed that conventional anti-retroviral therapies for HIV have damaged their health.
The teenager, referred to as ‘J’, was a normal teacher who had “many” friends and enjoyed football.
“But hanging over his life is the spectre of serious illness,” noted the judge.
The local authority had suspected that J might be HIV-positive for several years but his parents had refused to cooperate with medical authorities, and at one stage faced the threat of prison. Eventually J was taken into temporary foster care and finally received a blood test which confirmed his status.
He was later sent back to his parents, under an agreement that they would fully cooperate with social worker and doctors and would not discourage him from taking medication.
The family’s local authority subsequently applied for rulings on a number of matters, including whether or not the boy was able to make decisions regarding his welfare and the progression of his treatment, whether he should see a psychologist, and whether not the requirements of section 31 of the Children Act 1989 had been met.
Section 31 states that:
A court may only make a care order or supervision order if it is satisfied—
(a)that the child concerned is suffering, or is likely to suffer, significant harm; and
(b)that the harm, or likelihood of harm, is attributable to—
(i)the care given to the child, or likely to be given to him if the order were not made, not being what it would be reasonable to expect a parent to give to him; or
(ii)the child’s being beyond parental control.
Sitting at the High Court, Mr Justice Baker confined his ruling to medical matters after learning that J’s father had “tragically” died. He concluded that the boy was not ‘Gillick-compliant’: a term referring to the ability of children to make fully-informed decisions regarding their own health and welfare. His understanding of HIV and the consequences of not receiving treatment was “misinformed” and not independent of his parents, a doctor concluded.
The Judge declared:
“In this case, I find that J’s physical needs, and the risk of harm if he does not take the medication, outweigh the risk of harm through side effects, the risk of emotional harm of going against his parents’ views and his own expressed wishes and feelings.
The case recalls a number of rulings in which Judges concluded that the children of Jehovah’s Witnesses should receive blood transfusions despite their parents’ objections.