‘Immoral and unethical’ – new regulations allowing the use of dental and medical imaging such as X-rays to determine the age of asylum seekers who claim to be children have been criticised.
Leading health experts have slammed the measure, calling for ‘compassion and care’ rather than ‘unnecessary medical procedures’.
According to the Justification Decision (Scientific Age Imaging) Regulations 2024, it argues that ‘the scientific age imaging practice is justified’. The change has been proposed and rejected numerous times in the the past before being finalised in early January 2024.
The scientific age imaging practice includes dental radiography such as imaging of the third molar or wisdom tooth.
It also refers to radiography of the hand and wrist and MRIs of the knee and clavicle. Images are compared to radiographs from people whose age is known to estimate the age of the asylum seeker.
This method was recommended by the Interim Age Estimation Science Advisory Committee in October 2022. However, the committee’s report emphasises that the practice cannot definitively identify the age of asylum seekers.
It said: ‘Biological assessment of age should consider whether the age claimed by the UASC is “possible” rather than be used to answer the specific question of how old that person is or whether they are under or over 18 years of age.’
This ‘caution’ was well received by humanitarian organisations such as the Refugee Council.
CEO Enver Solomon said: ‘We welcome the interim committee’s confirmation that scientific age assessments are not a stand-alone solution, that they are not risk-free, and that they should be used with extreme caution alongside other methods rather than on their own.’
However, other groups condemn use of age imaging in any circumstances, including the UK dental community.
Paula Waterhouse, president of the British Society of Paediatric Dentistry (BSPD), spoke out in opposition. She said: ‘Age profiling using dental X-rays has absolutely no evidence base whatsoever. This wholly inaccurate approach to assessing the age of those seeking asylum in this country is morally wrong because it means that vulnerable children will be exposed to unnecessary radiation without any clinical benefit.
‘We have been through this debate on numerous occasions and believed that it had been shelved for good. Frustratingly, it appears this is not the case. The discussion around using X-rays for age profiling asylum seekers has been debated for nearly two decades. Our members will not be taking X-rays unless they are clinically justified.
‘BSPD calls on the government to stop this immoral and unethical practice once and for all.’
The British Dental Association (BDA) has also criticised the use of dental X-rays for this purpose. In 2021, BDA chair Eddie Crouch condemned the practice as ‘inaccurate, inappropriate and unethical’.
Representing the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH), Andrew Roland said: ‘It is appalling to see that the government is persisting with these plans, which hinge life-changing decisions for some of the most vulnerable young people in our society on unspecific scientific outcomes and includes exposing them to radiation.
‘Children have a right to seek asylum in the UK under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and it is our legal duty to uphold this.
‘Many of these children have faced significant trauma on their journey to the UK, and should be met with compassion and care, not unnecessary medical procedures.’
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