Bioethics Blogs

Who should decide what’s in a child’s best interest?

Robert MacDougall argues that parents should have the final say about what constitutes their child’s “best interest”.


A recent court decision affirming the right of a First Nations family to make medical decisions for their own child and forgo chemotherapy treatment has faced a lot of criticism. Critics have urged that providing chemotherapy treatment to the child is in the best interest of the child and thus should be provided. These criticisms (see, for example, here, here, and here), however, have been relatively thin on ethical argument. Instead, these criticisms rely on what is taken to be an unproblematic notion of the “best interest of the child.” In a recent piece posted on Impact Ethics, for example, Amy Mullin took note of a number of factors: the family’s love and care for the child; Canada’s historical violations of aboriginal rights; and the difficult nature of the proposed chemotherapy. Mullin concluded that these factors could not “justify” letting the parents decide to forgo chemotherapy for their child, implying that the parents’ plan for treatment requires justification because it seems obvious that their actions are not in the “best interest” of their daughter.

Child with Halo

Norval Morrisseau, Child with Halo, Meaning Blessings of the Earth (1995). Private Collection. Norval Morrisseau: Return to the House of Invention. By Donald C. Robinson. Toronto, ON: Key Porter Books Limited, 2005.

In contrast to Mullin and others, I suggest the concept of “best interest” is one that should be determined by the parents themselves, and not by those outside the home and community.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.