Adolescent Parents and Medical Decision-Making

Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 22 (3):253-270 (1997)
The growing phenomenon of teenage pregnancy introduces the problem of who should serve as surrogate decision makers for the children of adolescent parents. The justifications which sanction society's grant of presumptive decision making authority for adult parents, and the rationales and empirical evidence supporting a central role for adolescents who wish to make medical decisions regarding their own care, together suggest that older adolescent parents should be viewed as the presumptive decision makers for their children. There is, however, empirical evidence that adolescent parents lack the cognitive abilities of childless adolescents of the same age and that many exhibit lower levels of emotional stability, sensitivity to infant needs, and social adjustment. These deficiencies, where present, undermine the very justifications for allowing adolescents to make medical decisions for their children. These findings are strong enough to justify a greater level of watchfulness over the competency and decisions of those adolescents who wish to make decisions for their children, but not definitive enough to conclude that, as a group, they be presumed incapable of making those decisions
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