When it comes to the question of who should have the final say on what is in a child's best interests, there is no straightforward answer. Context, of course, is everything. How many sweets should a toddler eat? The parents' decision on that particular question should stand. If a child desperately needs a blood transfusion but the parents refuse to consent to the treatment on religious grounds? The answer starts to get tricky.
At a Family Justice Council debate last night, arguments were put forward to and against the motion that courts should have the final say.
'The difference between parents and the court is that one uses their own intuition, the other uses evidence,' professor Michael Freeman, former vice-president of the International Society of Family Law, said.
'The courts do not have the power to have the final say even if they wanted to,' professor Jonathan Herring, vice dean and professor of law at the University of Oxford's law faculty, argued.
'A final arbiter is required in cases of dispute. Parents can and do make decisions so obviously contrary to their children's [interests],' Victoria Butler-Cole, a barrister at London's 39 Essex Chambers, pointed out.
Sir James Munby, president of the family division and chair of the Family Justice Council, recalled a case where an anorexic girl was ordered by the judge to be detained and 'put in plaster' to stop her making herself sick. A few years later, Munby recognised the girl on TV, discussing a heart transplant case, looking the 'picture of health', and telling the interviewer she was relieved a judge had stopped her doing something silly.
Perhaps, in certain private family law disputes, the judge could make no decision. Munby said: 'It's something I've done myself, where you simply refuse to decide and say "you are the parents, you have parental responsibility, you have got to decide, the court is not going to decide.' However, it's a 'high-risk strategy', he acknowledged.
Taking emotion out of the equation when it comes to thinking about what is in a child's best interests is nigh on impossible for a parent. If I were dying and the doctors wanted to switch off my life support machine because I was in too much pain, my mum would most likely still say no. In that situation, both parties want what's best for me but understandably cannot reach agreement. Who better to decide my fate than a judge.