Keyholders and flak jackets: the method in the madness of mixed metaphors

Alasdair Maclean (Lead / Corresponding author)

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    7 Citations (Scopus)


    The law in England allows that both parents and competent minors concurrently have the right to consent to medical treatment of the minor. This means that while competent minors may consent to treatment their refusal of consent does not act as an effective veto of treatment and treatment remains lawful if given with parental consent. This approach has been heavily criticized as inconsistent with the House of Lords decision in the Gillick case and damned as ‘palpable nonsense’. In this article, I examine these criticisms and conclude that, far from being illogical, it is entirely consistent with the essential asymmetry between consent to treatment and refusal of treatment. I examine the two metaphors of keyholders and flak jackets used to explain this approach and I suggest that both have value but only when used in combination. I also explain why, contrary to the criticism, it is consistent with Gillick.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)121-126
    Number of pages6
    JournalClinical Ethics
    Issue number3
    Publication statusPublished - Sept 2008


    • Medical treatment
    • Consent
    • Minors


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