Conflating Capacity & Authority: Why We're Asking the Wrong Question in the Adolescent Decision‐Making Debate

Hastings Center Report 47 (1):32-41 (2017)
Whether adolescents should be allowed to make their own medical decisions has been a topic of discussion in bioethics for at least two decades now. Are adolescents sufficiently capacitated to make their own medical decisions? Is the mature-minor doctrine, an uncommon legal exception to the rule of parental decision-making authority, something we should expand or eliminate? Bioethicists have dealt with the curious liminality of adolescents—their being neither children nor adults—in a variety of ways. However, recently there has been a trend to rely heavily, and often exclusively, on emerging neuroscientific and psychological data to answer these questions. Using data from magnetic resonance imaging and functional MRI studies on the adolescent brain, authors have argued both that the adolescent brain isn't sufficiently mature to broadly confer capacity on this population and that the adolescent brain is sufficiently mature to assume adolescent capacity. Scholars then accept these data as sufficient for concluding that adolescents should or should not have decision-making authority. Two critical mistakes are being made here. The first is the expectation that neuroscience or psychology is or will be able to answer all our questions about capacity. The second, and more concerning, mistake is the conflation of decision-making capacity with decision-making authority.
Keywords No keywords specified (fix it)
Categories (categorize this paper)
DOI 10.1002/hast.666
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Request removal from index
Revision history

Download options

Our Archive

Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy     Papers currently archived: 36,555
External links

Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library

References found in this work BETA

Parental Authority and Pediatric Bioethical Decision Making.M. J. Cherry - 2010 - Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 35 (5):553-572.

View all 7 references / Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

Add more citations

Similar books and articles

Adolescent Parents and Medical Decision-Making.K. de Ville - 1997 - Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 22 (3):253-270.
Moral Authority and Proxy Decision-Making.Anthony Wrigley - 2015 - Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 18 (3):631-647.


Added to PP index

Total downloads
5 ( #740,805 of 2,303,255 )

Recent downloads (6 months)
1 ( #430,305 of 2,303,255 )

How can I increase my downloads?

Monthly downloads

My notes

Sign in to use this feature