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Consent makes lawful either the otherwise unwanted touch or the otherwise unwanted disclosure of private information. In medical practice, the unwanted touch is easily characterised by the various potentially harmful physical interventions we employ on a daily basis; administration of medicines, invasive investigations or surgery are elementary examples. In each case, we have become accustomed to ensuring that the capable patient or parent must have disclosed to them information which they will reasonably require to choose whether or not to accept the intervention. But the frequency with which consent is employed to legitimise this otherwise ‘unwanted touch’ should not mislead us into believing that this is consent’s main or predominant role. On the contrary, consent has an equally important function in the arguably more complex decision that the capable patient or parent has to make when agreeing (after balancing the risks and benefits) to allow their private information to be shared.
This was underlined in Gillick,1 which established that a child of sufficient maturity and intelligence independently to consent for treatment will also have the right to keep their medical information private from their parents. Twenty years later in Axon,2 a judge rejected the submission that the infringement of a competent child’s confidentiality in order to ensure that her parents knew that she was seeking an abortion was in the public interest. The court found that the public interest lay in the respect for the confidentiality of the competent child’s information. Axon confirmed the …
Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.
Competing interests None declared.
Provenance and peer review Commissioned; internally peer reviewed.