Challenging questions and ethical obligations: the ethics of everyday practice > 21 January 2015

Emma Nottingham


The role of test cases in ethical challenges concerning children’s health

The law and the judiciary have an integral role in resolving ethical challenges and dilemmas in children’s healthcare. An important judicial method for outlining the obligations and interests of parties involved in medical dilemmas, including children, parents and the medical profession, has been through the use of test case litigation. Using the example of the test case of Gillick v West Norfolk and Wisbech Area Health Authority[1], this paper addresses how and whether test case litigation can assist the ethical challenges surrounding adolescent and child decision-making in healthcare. It identifies how and why the Gillick litigation took place and focuses on the unique qualities which make it a test case and weighs up the benefits and drawbacks of using this sort of case to advance the regulation of children’s decision-making in healthcare.

The purpose of this analysis is to shed light on the ways in which the law on children’s rights in healthcare has evolved and consider whether this method of development should be adopted in future. Further, this type of analysis may encourage lawmakers and policymakers to think carefully about the test cases should be used to develop and regulate this area of law and practice, so that challenges in children’s healthcare decision-making can be supported in the best possible way.



Emma Nottingham is a Doctoral researcher and tutor at Southampton Law School. Her research interests include healthcare law, children’s rights, sexual and reproductive health and bioethics. Emma recently convened the Postgraduate Bioethics Conference 2014 and is a research committee member of the Institute of Medical Ethics.


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