Tuesday, September 14, 2021



Yesterday, the UKs four Chief Medical Officers (CMOs) recommended that children aged 12-15 be offered one dose of vaccine for coronavirus. If the Government decides to be ‘led by the science’ this will probably be delivered through schools, with parents being asked to give consent, but with the child having the determining say.

Some argue that this is a dangerous precedent, a removal of parental rights by government. In fact, this is nothing new, but it does highlight the importance of ethics in society. In this instance, a decision is made on the basis of interaction between the considered advice of experts, the deliberation of elected representatives, the parental responsibility for immediate duty of care toward their child, and the agency of the young person.

Secondary school aged children are well placed to be actively involved in this decision (and perhaps better placed than their parents). They are learning how to interpret arguments in English, and evaluate sources for propaganda in History. They are learning about bio-chemistry in Science, and probability in Maths. They are learning about ethics in Religious Studies, and how their decisions impact others in Personal and Social Development.

Teenagers are also impulsive, change their minds, bow to peer pressure, and experiment with drugs. They need, and should be able to expect to have, checks and balances in place (such as those that already exist on parental consent forms, where consent may be given, or withheld, with reasons given).

What 12-15 year olds need from their parents is parents who will recognise and affirm their agency; support them in making a decision for themselves; and continue to support them in the long-term consequence of that decision.

Clearly, not every child has parents who are willing or able to do that for them. Not only parents who don’t take responsibility, but also those who take too much; parents who believe that they know better and are acting in the best interests of a child who cannot see it yet because they are not an adult. You’ll find such parents across every demographic group by which you might sub-divide society.

Sometimes the rights of children overrule those of parents, and it is important that there are regularly reviewed due processes for determining this.

Ethics is a process of dialogue, that calls on us to listen attentively and care-fully—that is, having care for the person we are listening to—and speak courageously. It is a conversation in which no-one has the last word, because there is no last word. Where even when a child’s decision overrules that of their parent, the conversation must carry on: child and parents supported to be a family; families and Members of Parliament and experts in all manner of fields supported—supporting one another—to be a healthy society, able to face complex challenges.


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