Forms to capture child consent to surgical procedures: Time to focus on function rather than form

Forms to capture child consent to surgical procedures: Time to focus on function rather than form
A Strode, C Badul
South African Journal of Bioethics and Law, April 2021; 14(1)
Open Access
It is uncontroversial that no form of treatment, including a surgical operation, can be undertaken without the consent of the patient/proxy. The Children’s Act deals expressly with consent to ‘surgical operations’ on children. Section 12 creates a framework based on the principles of child participation and protection. Nevertheless, obtaining consent from children remains complex: firstly, children are legal minors and have limited capacity to act independently. Secondly, there may be risks or longer-term consequences of surgery that distinguish it from medical treatment. Third, a child’s capacity to understand risks is not static: it evolves with age, and limited tools exist to access capacity. Fourth, there are at least three parties to the consent procedure – the child, the parent/guardian and the medical practitioner, all of whom may have different interests. Fifth, in some instances there is the added complication of child parents who need to provide consent for their own child. This article aims to provide guidance to surgeons and other medical practitioners performing surgery on children. It does this through setting out the legal norms relating to child consent to an operation. It critically examines the pro forma consent forms (forms 34 and 35) found in the regulations issued in terms of the Children’s Act that are to be used to document the consent process, and identifies key gaps and weaknesses. It concludes with recommendations for the adaptation of these forms through the use of a checklist to ensure that all the requirements for valid consent are documented, protecting children and medical practitioners.

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