Best interests and low thresholds: legal and ethical issues relating to needle and syringe services for under 18s in Sweden

(January 2023)

Damon Barrett, Frida Petersson, Russell Turner Harm Reduction Journal – 2022-01-01

Access for legal minors to needle and syringe programmes raises a number of practical, legal and ethical challenges that traverse clinical practice, child protection and child rights. This article addresses the current legal age restriction on access to needle and syringe programmes (NSPs) in Sweden. Based on legislation and legislative preparatory works, it traces the rationale for retaining an age restriction in the context of a policy priority to improve access for people who inject drugs. Building on threshold theory and child rights literature, the article unpacks the apparent tension between protecting the low threshold nature of service provision, child protection duties of healthcare staff, and the best interests of the child. It explores whether this tension could be alleviated through replacing a legal age restriction for all with best interests assessments for each individual, and discusses the potential ethical and practical challenges involved in such a change. Read more