HEC Forum 26 (4):299-308 (2014)

Adolescents present a puzzle. There are foundational unclarities about how they should be regarded as decision-makers. Although superficially adolescents may appear to have mature decisional capacity, their decision-making is in many ways unlike that of adults. Despite this seemingly obvious fact, a concern for the claims of autonomy has led to the development of the legal doctrine of the mature minor. This legal construct considers adolescents, as far as possible, as equivalent to adults for the purpose of medical decision-making. The movement to support independent decision-making by adolescents through providing information to them and securing their consent apart from their parents is encouraged by those legal understandings that hold that unemancipated minors should generally be considered as possessing effective decisional capacity. Such legal structures, however, do not adequately take account of the wide variations in adolescent capacities, the immaturity of most adolescent decision-makers, or the important contributions made by parents to the development of their adolescents through parental partnering in the adolescent’s decision-making. The data available indicate that in general adolescents should be regarded as apprentice decision-makers who should make decisions in collaboration with their parents until at least the age of 18. Steps should not be taken pre-emptively to isolate adolescents from the guidance of their parents. As a general rule, what Piker has referred to as “collaborative paternalism” appears most likely both to protect adolescents from their own untoward choices, while also very importantly helping them with parental guidance to develop into mature decision-makers with the capacity to make medical choices on their own
Keywords Adolescent medical decision-making  Pediatric medical decision-making  Mature minor
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DOI 10.1007/s10730-014-9250-8
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