State vs parent: who should decide what’s best for children?
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Controversies over parental rights have rarely been out of the headlines over the past 12 months. The heartbreaking case of young Charlie Gard has provoked strong feelings on all sides about what should happen when the wishes of parents clash with the professional opinion of doctors. In Scotland, the SNP government is attempting to introduce the so-called ‘named person’ scheme, creating state-appointed guardians with ‘responsibility for overall monitoring of the child’s wellbeing and outcomes’, regardless of parental consent.
This debate about the rights of parents has also centred around education. The rising number of truancy prosecutions for parents taking their children on term-time holidays was big news this year, as was the Prevent strategy, which aims to spot children at risk of ‘radicalisation’. This has led to fears that children will be removed from households or reported to authorities where parents hold or express the ‘wrong’ views. With the introduction of compulsory sex education, debate has already begun about whether parents will still be able to choose to withdraw their child.
There are big questions for us to answer here as a society. To what extent should the state be responsible for determining what are ‘good’ and ‘bad’ parental decisions? Should there be limits on parents’ rights to make decisions for their children, based on their own personal moral, ideological or religious convictions? Is the increasing level of state involvement making things better for children, protecting them from parental harm, or is it in danger of undermining parental autonomy?