Thursday, 13 December 2018
Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Bill 2018: Report and Final Stages
I thank the Senators. As Senator Mullen said, we had a lengthy discussion on this on Committee Stage, although not a vote. I want to be clear that the normal medical principles on consent will and must apply in relation to termination of pregnancy. Consent to medical treatment by minors over the age of 16 is governed in the Statute Book, so this idea that we are entirely leaving it to guidelines is not actually correct. It is governed by section 23 of the Non-Fatal Offences against the Person Act 1997.
Furthermore, consent to medical treatment for minors is also governed by significant case law. The issue of parental notification is comprehensively dealt with in the HSE's guide to consent for young people and in the national consent policy, part 2 of which is wholly concerned with issues around consent for children and minors, including detailed sections on the age of consent and the role of parents and guardians. Page 54 of the national consent policy specifically states: "It is only in exceptional circumstances that, having regard to the need to take account of an objective assessment of both the rights and the best interests of the person under 16, health and social care interventions would be provided for those under 16 without the knowledge or consent of parent(s) or legal guardian(s)." The policy then goes on to set out the details of what an assessment in such circumstances should cover, including the need to assess the maturity of the minor and any welfare, protection or other considerations, such as the Children First guidelines to which Senator Mullen rightly refers.
The provision on consent in section 23 of the Bill does not include any special provisions or requirements around consent for any particular group, and I do not intend for this to change as I do not believe it needs to change for the legislative and guideline reasons I have already outlined.