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  • Writer's pictureAlexandre Amaral Filho

A legal approach to the interesting film "Children Act": a movie recommendation (no spoilers!).

"This is a Court of Justice, not of morals".

Probably this can be considered the main premise that mediates the conflicts through which the protagonist of "Chidren's Act" (2017, United Kingdom) passes.

The film deals with Judge Fiona Maye, who judges complex cases involving Family Law in England. The plot revolves around the dilemma presented by the case of Adam, a seventeen-year-old boy with leukemia who, even on medical recommendation for blood transfusion, remains faithful to a dogma of his (Jehovah's Witness) religion, which he considers the blood as "life in itself," whose "mixture" would be a disrespect to God as the provider of life. His parents and every religious community where he is inserted support the decision.

Briefly, it can be said that it is a case where there is a collision of fundamental rights. The conflict involves freedom of religion on the one hand and the need for protection of life on the other. Another way to present the question is the continuum that goes from "medical paternalism" and full "patient autonomy".[1]

The arguments thrown at the court during the film are balanced and illustrates the conflict properly. For a moment the viewer is led to consider, on the one hand, both Adam's fervent conviction in his religious freedom and the love shown by his parents, and the claim that there are alternative methods to treatment with blood transfusion to deal with disease, in addition to the risks inherent in the procedure (diseases such as AIDS, hepatitis, etc.)[2]. On the other hand, the peremptory assertion of the doctors that the dispensation of treatment will lead Adam to a cruel and painful death awakens in the viewer the doubt as to how conscious is the patient of his choice. Furthermore, Adam shows to be aware that the punishment of the religious community for non-compliance with the dogma is "disassociation": the total social exclusion of the apostate.

In this sense, another point that the work can illustrate well is the questioning of Adam's "genuine consent"[3] to discontinue the treatment of blood transfusion. According to Luis Roberto Barroso in an opinion on the subject, this consent in cases of blood transfusion by Jehovah's Witnesses must be valid, unequivocal, free and informed.

Thus, in addition to questioning whether a minor's opinion is necessarily "unequivocal" (at a young age) or even "valid" (because of its hyposufficiency), the influence of religion on the identity of the patient leads us to ask if the character's choice is, in fact, "free" and indeed "well-informed. The legalistic tone that Judge Fiona espouses (of trying to separate Law and morals: "this is a Court of justice, not of morals") owes to us not the question "will the Law be sufficient to resolve?", but rather "what are the most appropriate ways to resolve within the law?”; or, "what must be the criteria to be met by the judge?"

In this sense, the thesis "Unavailable Fundamental Rights - the Limits and Standards of Consent for the Self-Limitation of the Fundamental Right to Life", from the author Leticia Martel (winner of the CAPES prize for best thesis). In her conclusion, there is a "genuine consent" to what she calls "Consensual Limitation of Treatment." In addressing the possibility, the author advocates basic guidelines for verifying the "genuineness" of such an important choice:

"(A) verification of the origin of the decision and of the maturity of the event by qualified professionals, after the appropriate information process; (b) confirmation of diagnosis and prognosis; (c) verifying the innocence of treatable depression; (d) verification of adequacy of palliatives and pain treatments offered; (e) verification of possible conflicts of interest between the hospital, the health team and the interests of patients and their caregivers; (f) guarantee of full assistance, if desired, and verification of the inexistence of economic conflicts; (g) verification of the inexistence of possible conflicts of interest between the patient and his/her relatives or representatives; (h) discussion of cases and conduct by Hospital Bioethics Committees, when there is still no positioning in similar situations; (i) specific TCLE formulation ["Free and Informed Consent Form"].[4] "

From these criteria, we think that the approach of the law student to the film becomes quite interesting, especially in the fun attempt of the viewer to anticipate the decision of the protagonist in his trial (which occurs more or less in the middle of the film). Regarding the quality of the film itself, well, it can be said that despite the dramatic (and less legal) tone that the work eventually assumes from the half-way forward, watching "An Act of Hope" is a guarantee of a fruitful session, not only for the quality of the approach to the legal issue but also for the excellent performance of Emma Thompson in the main role.

Alexandre Amaral Filho

[1] In an opinion that deals with the analysis of the Code of Medical Ethics and the case of blood transfusion in Jehovah's Witnesses, Luis Roberto Barroso, based on several points in the doctoral thesis of Letícia Campos Velho Martel, concludes that the Code of the Federal Council of Medicine allows the freedom of choice of the patient - which does not occur with respect to res. 139/99 of the CREMERJ, which claims to the physician the possibility of enforcing in case of imminent risk to life. On this, see: "Legitimacy of Denial of Blood Transfusion by Jehovah's Witnesses, Human Dignity, Religious Freedom, and Existential Choices." Available at: <>

[2] According to the official JW.Org website, the prohibition of blood transfusion is a dogma based on passages of the old and the new testament: Genesis 9: 4, Leviticus 17:10, Deuteronomy 12:23, Acts 15:28, and Leviticus 17 : 14. E.g., in Leviticus 17:14: "For the life of every creature is his blood, because life is in the blood. Therefore I said to the Israelites, 'Do not eat the blood of any creature, for the life of every creature is his blood. Whoever eats it shall be cut off. '"Available at: <>

[3] In order to deepen the theme, it is recommended the work " Unavailable Fundamental Rights - the Limits and Patterns of Consent for the Self-Limitation of the Fundamental Right to Life" by Letícia Campos Velho Martel, winner of the CAPES award for best doctoral thesis. The work had as a hypothesis: "[t] hough it is justifiable, in principle, that a legal system deems the right to life unavailable, it may occur self-limitation, through genuine consent, when associated with certain determinants of fact and law ". The author's thesis largely benefited from an opinion of Prof. Luis Roberto Barroso also quoted in this brief article. Available at: <>

[4] Idem, p. 428.


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