True wishes: the philosophy and developmental psychology of informed consent

Philosophy, Psychiatry, and Psychology 2 (4):287-303 (1995)
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In this article we explore the underpinnings of what we view as a recent "backlash" in English law, a judicial reaction against considering children's and young people's expressions of their own feelings about treatment as their "true" wishes. We use this case law as a springboard to conceptual discussion, rooted in (a) empirical psychological work on child development and (b) three key philosophical ideas: rationality, autonomy and identity. Using these three concepts, we explore different understandings of our central theme, true wishes. These different conceptual interpretations, we argue, help to elucidate important clinical questions in the area of children's informed consent to treatment. For example, how much should a child's own wishes count in making medical decisions? Does it make a difference if the child or young person is undergoing psychiatric treatment?—if in some sense her wishes are abnormal, not "true" expressions of what she really wants? If the child's wishes do not count, why not? If they do matter but count for less, how much less? We conclude by advocating functional tests of a young person's true wishes, applicable on a case-by-case basis, rather than a black-and-white distinction between "incompetent" children and "competent" adults.

Author Profiles

Donna Dickenson
Birkbeck, University of London


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