BMA guidance

Parental responsibility and consent

The responsibilities parents have in respect of their child's healthcare, including consent to treatment.

Location: UK
Audience: All doctors
Updated: Tuesday 8 September 2020
Topics: Ethics
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Parental responsibility is a legal concept that consists of the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority that most parents have in respect of their children.

It includes the right to give consent to medical treatment - although as is discussed in the guidance, this right is not absolute - as well as, in certain circumstances, the freedom to delegate some decision-making responsibility to others. In addition, competent children can consent to diagnosis and treatment on their own behalf if they understand the implications of what is proposed (see guidance).


What you'll get from this guide

  • Guidance on who possesses parental responsibility.
  • Obtaining consent from people with parental responsibility.
  • Information on competent children and the limits to parental responsibility. 


Basic principles

  • Parental responsibility refers to the rights, duties, powers and responsibilities that most parents have in respect of their children.
  • Parental responsibility includes the right of parents to consent to treatment on behalf of their children, provided the treatment is in the interests of the child.
  • Those with parental responsibility have a statutory right to apply for access to their children’s health records, although if the child is capable of giving consent, he or she must consent to the access
  • Competent children can decide many aspects of their care for themselves.
  • Where doctors believe that parental decisions are not in the best interests of the child, it may be necessary to seek a view from the courts, while meanwhile only providing emergency treatment that is essential to preserve life or prevent serious deterioration.
  • Basic principles
  • Terminology
  • What is parental responsibility?
  • Who possesses parental responsibility?
  • Consent from people with parental responsibility
  • What are the limits to parental responsibility?
  • What happens when people with parental responsibility disagree?
  • Answers to common questions
  • Parental responsibility and human rights
  • Competent children and the limits to parental responsibility
  • Further reading