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11.11.2017 | Original Article | Ausgabe 3/2018 Open Access

International Journal of Legal Medicine 3/2018

Ethical aspects of medical age assessment in the asylum process: a Swedish perspective

International Journal of Legal Medicine > Ausgabe 3/2018
Erik Malmqvist, Elisabeth Furberg, Lars Sandman


According to European regulations and the legislations of individual member states, children who seek asylum have a different set of rights than adults in a similar position. To protect these rights and ensure rule of law, migration authorities are commonly required to assess the age of asylum seekers who lack reliable documentation, including through various medical methods. However, many healthcare professionals and other commentators consider medical age assessment to be ethically problematic. This paper presents a simplified and amended account of the main findings of a recent ethical analysis of medical age assessment in the asylum process commissioned by the Swedish National Board of Health and Welfare. A number of ethical challenges related to conflicting goals, equality and fairness, autonomy and informed consent, privacy and integrity, and professional values and roles are identified and analysed. It is concluded that most of these challenges can be met, but that this requires a system where the assessment is sufficiently accurate and where adequate safeguards are in place. Two important ethical questions are found to warrant further analysis. The first is whether asylum seekers’ consent to the procedure can be considered genuinely voluntary. The second is whether and how medical age assessments could affect negative public attitudes towards asylum seekers or discriminatory societal views more generally.

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