Allowing Competent Children in South Africa to refuse Medical Treatment: Lessons from England

Author: Hanneretha Kruger

ISSN: 1996-2193
Affiliations: B lur LLB (UFS) LLD (Unisa), Professor of Private Law, University of South Africa
Source: Stellenbosch Law Review, Volume 32 Issue 3, 2021, p. 410 – 434


This article considers the question whether the right of children to consent to medical treatment includes the right to refuse medical treatment, as is the case with adult patients. If this question is answered in the affirmative, a second question arises, namely whether the protection of this right of children is as strong as the protection provided to their adult counterparts. More particularly, do children have the right to refuse medical treatment if that refusal is considered to be unreasonable or irrational by the child’s parents or doctors? If this question is answered in the negative, a third question is whether the differential approach to consent by child and adult patients is justified. In the first part of the article, the position in English law is explored. In the second part of the article, the South African legislative framework, particularly the Children’s Act 38 of 2005 and the National Health Act 61 of 2003, is considered. This is done against the background of international and regional human rights instruments and the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996. The lessons learned from the developments in English law are used to suggest a way forward in South African law.