This analysis is about practical living bioethics and how law, ethics and sociology understand and respect children’s consent to, or refusal of, elective heart surgery. Analysis of underlying theories and influences will contrast legalistic bioethics with living bioethics. In-depth philosophical analysis compares social science traditions of positivism, interpretivism, critical theory and functionalism and applies them to bioethics and childhood, to examine how living bioethics may be encouraged or discouraged. Illustrative examples are drawn from research interviews and observations in two London paediatric cardiac units. This paper is one of a series on how the multidisciplinary cardiac team members all contribute to the complex mosaic of care when preparing and supporting families’ informed consent to surgery.
The living bioethics of justice, care and respect for children and their consent depends on theories and practices, contexts and relationships. These can all be undermined by unseen influences: the history of adult-centric ethics; developmental psychology theories; legal and financial pressures that require consent to be defined as an adult contract; management systems and daily routines in healthcare that can intimidate families and staff; social inequalities. Mainstream theories in the clinical ethics literature markedly differ from the living bioethics in clinical practices.