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Andrews backs lowering legal age of consent to 16

By December 23, 2009News

Irish Times – 23 December 2009

BY MARIE O'HALLORAN

MINISTER OF State for Children Barry Andrews has expressed his personal support for a lowering of the legal age of consent to 16.

The Minister said the Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution recommended the legal age be reduced to 16 from the current 17, to make it “the same as almost everywhere in Europe and Northern Ireland”.

If the Government accepted the reduction, it would require a rethink on other issues, and “I support on a personal level, to reduce the age of consent to 16”, to reflect reality, he said.

Speaking at the publication of proposals by the Law Reform Commission that older teenagers should have more rights over any medical treatment they receive, Mr Andrews said it was an anomaly that a teenage mother could consent to treatment for her child but not for herself.

The commission proposes that 16- and 17-year-olds should be allowed to consent to and refuse medical treatment including surgery and contraception.

It also proposes that 14-and 15-year olds should be allowed to make their own decisions about medical treatment provided they understand the nature and consequences of the treatment. The Minister stressed that the document was provisional and required debate.

Speaking on RTÉ radio, Mr Andrews said “many people under 17 have had sexual intercourse and I think we need to update our laws to reflect these facts”.

The Minister said the proposals dealt with very sensitive areas such as “a child who presents with a mental health issue and doesn’t want their parents to know, or possibly their parents are the cause of the problem” and the issue was “whether the practitioner can do anthing without the parents’ involvement”.

He also referred to the refusal of treatment for people with “life-limiting conditions, who would perhaps choose not to receive treatments”.

Mrs Justice Catherine McGuinness, chairwoman of the Law Reform Commission, said there was a large number of 16-18 year-olds “who are living adults lives and are anxious to have medical treatment in a confidential manner”.

She said it was already law that those over 16 years could consent to medical treatments. In relation to 14- and 15-year-olds, subject to certain conditions “if a person has the capacity to understand the requests of what’s going to happen, we feel that they are sufficiently mature to decide for themselves”, the chairwoman said.

Niall Behan, chief executive of the Irish Family Planning Association (IFPA), said “this area at the moment is very unclear and uncertain both for young people and doctors and any attempt to clarify this is extremely important”.

Mr Behan described the proposals as “a genuine attempt to clarify things and I don’t think parents should fear them at all”.

Asked about the proposals for 14- and 15-year-olds to make their own decisions, Mr Behan said “in practice it’s very rare that a 14-year-old will seek treatment and not be accompanied by a parent, but doctors will still need flexibility”. There could be rare cases, such as in instances of abuse where treatment would be “in the best interests of the child”.

Rose Tully, public relations officer of the National Parents’ Council, expressed concern and said “parents certainly have to have some say and be able to look at the recommendations”.

The council would carefully consider the proposals and put in substantial responses. “We need an input because of the implications for our children. I do believe it’s about information and about protecting our children and at the end of the day that’s what matters.”

The deadline for submissions on the proposals is March 31st.