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Narrow view of parental responsibility
  1. Robert Wheeler
  1. Paediatric Surgery, Southampton University Hospitals NHS Trust, Southampton, Southampton, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Robert Wheeler, Paediatric Surgery, Southampton University Hospitals NHS Trust, Southampton, UK; robert.wheeler{at}

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Parental responsibility determines an outline for the parents’ control over their child’s upbringing. It provides parents with authority to give their child its name, determining country of residence, and matters including those relating to education, both religious and secular. The full meaning of ‘parental responsibility’ is given by the Children Act 1989 (CA 1989) s3(1): ‘All the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which by law a parent of a child has in relation to the child and his property’. Thus defined, it plainly also provides consent to medical treatment. Conflicts or questions relating to parental responsibility for medical treatment were the central theme of 34/202 clinical legal enquiries relating to ‘parents and children’ (out of a total of 1482 enquiries) received in one hospital over a 12-year period.1

The CA 1989 was described as the ‘…most comprehensive and far-reaching reform of child law which has come before Parliament in living memory’ by the then Lord Chancellor. Prior to the statutory construct of parental responsibility, comprehensive parental control was historically vulnerable to interference by local authorities through the courts. ‘Wardship’ was the archetypal protective jurisdiction, giving wide and flexible powers to courts dealing with any serious issues affecting individual children. Making a child a ‘ward of court’ took away all parental legal control over their children at one fell swoop and in many cases represented a disproportionate response …

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  • Contributors RW is the sole contributor.

  • 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.