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Disclosing the significance of their competence to the Gillick competent
  1. Robert Wheeler
  1. Paediatric Surgery, University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust, Southampton, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Robert Wheeler, Paediatric Surgery, University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust, Southampton, UK; robert.wheeler{at}

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It is commonplace to meet a competent teenager who with no apparent hesitation brushes away the offer to provide consent for a clinical intervention. Choosing, instead, to defer to his parents for the provision of consent. Evidence for the incidence of this behaviour is sparse but will doubtless be forthcoming. In a recent judgement, a court went as far as setting out the conditions for such a deferral by the Gillick competent child,1 who therefore by definition will have demonstrated sufficient maturity and intelligence to make the treatment-related decision. While the consent of the child in question was required to legitimise treatment, if ‘…for whatever reason he could not give or did not wish to give such consent, preferring to defer to his mother’ that was an acceptable arrangement. The child is taken as saying, in effect, that he ‘…declines to make a decision, and prefers his mother to do so for him’. Even if this had been accompanied by the adolescent anthem of ‘whatever’.

The term ‘mature minors’ thus refers both to younger children who are Gillick competent, and to 16 and 17 year olds who, while still children, are presumed to have capacity in accordance with the Mental Capacity Act 2005. It is an ironic paradox that such a potent marker of independence as the ‘right’ to provide consent should be so lightly discarded. In some clinical situations, the status conferred by Gillick …

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  • Funding The author has 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.