chapter  5
Patients’ Rights
Pages 12

Just as all of us have been children so all of us have the experience of being patients and face the prospect of returning to that status at some stage of our lives. Given the universality of the condition of being a child or patient it is perhaps surprising that it is only recently that they have been considered as rights subjects. Only in the twentieth century has a discourse of child rights developed and only in the last fifty years has there been talk of patients’ rights. One might argue that ‘women’s rights’ is a similarly recent notion except that the idea that women were entitled to equal treatment emerges in a modern form in the 1790s in the writings of such pioneer feminists as Olympe de Gouges or Mary Wollstonecraft. It was more than one hundred years before attention turned to children’s rights as children were regarded as being less than equal to a fully qualified member of society and therefore not entitled to make the same claims on society. In the case of children, it is because they are considered to lack the maturity, wisdom or knowledge that they are thought of as not entitled to respect as self-determining individuals. When you are ill, realising your lack of knowledge you consent to another – the medical professional – making decisions on your behalf. In that relationship you appear to have given up the right to self-determination and thereby voluntarily forfeit any claim to an entitlement to rights within the medical situation. If this was the case in the past there are many now who would argue that it is not a case that can be sustained any longer.