Religion As a Controlling Interference in Medical Decision-Making by Minors
Forthcoming as Chapter 23 in a book (currently untitled) published by Cambridge University Press
14 Pages Posted: 27 Apr 2017 Last revised: 19 May 2017
Date Written: October 19, 2016
It is well settled that adult Jehovah’s Witnesses are permitted to refuse life-saving blood transfusions in accordance with their religious beliefs, but parents may not refuse the same on behalf of their children. In cases involving adolescents and religious refusals, the argument is often asserted that the decision is being made by the minors themselves.
Several jurisdictions have adopted the so-called mature minor doctrine, which permits older minors to rebut the presumption of legal incompetence. The existing literature and case law in the United States inadequately address the extent to which religious families and church leaders may impermissibly influence the adolescent’s choice. The broad deference that it is generally given to religious decisions is inappropriate in this context, particularly when dealing with religions that isolate the adolescents in question and teach adherents to follow church authority unquestioningly and to avoid independent thought. In such situations, medical professionals (or the courts) must play an active role in determining whether controlling interferences are present that prevent the adolescent from making a substantially autonomous choice.
Keywords: bioethics, law, medical decision-making, mature minor doctrine
JEL Classification: K32, K36
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation