A life or death choice
A British teenager went to court not to have surgery. And in SA, pre-teens may soon have rights when it comes to medical choices.
This week, 13-year-old Hannah Jones went before the High Court in London, for the right not to have heart surgery, according to News24.
The teen, who has been living with cancer since the age of five, had the support of her parents in making the decision not to undergo another risky procedure.

The idea of a young teen, barely into puberty, making such a momentous decision is painful on many levels. That she is in the situation in the first place is simply sad – and that she should need to go to court to defend her choices seems harsh. The case has since been dropped by health authorities.

Changes are afoot in South African law that would give 12 year olds the legal right to decide about their own medical treatment. “The age of consent for medical treatment is currently 14 and for surgery it is 18. This will change to 12 once the new Children’s Act comes into operation some time next year,” explains Prinslean Mahery, Legal Assistant at the Centre for Child Law at the University of Pretoria.

The new law will require children making decisions regarding surgery to be assisted by their parents or legal guardian, according to The Legal Guide to Age Thresholds for Children, written by Mahery with Paula Proudlock of the University of Cape Town’s Children’s Institute. There is also a proviso that a 12-year-old making such decisions “must be of sufficient maturity and mental capacity to understand the benefits, risks and social implications of the operation,” says the Legal Guide.

The law relating to medical procedures does not apply to termination of pregnancy, which is still the sole decision of the person who is pregnant, no matter what their age. "However, a termination of pregnancy may be refused if the pregnant teen is unable to give informed consent for the requested termination," explains Mahery. The law, which won’t change when the new Act comes in, states that a minor requesting a termination should be advised to consult with their parents.

What do you think of the new laws? Should 12 year olds be involved in making medical decisions?

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