Overriding Adolescent Refusals of Treatment

Journal of Ethics and Social Philosophy 20 (3):221-247 (2021)
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Adolescents are routinely treated differently to adults, even when they possess similar capacities. In this article, we explore the justification for one case of differential treatment of adolescents. We attempt to make philosophical sense of the concurrent consents doctrine in law: adolescents found to have decision-making capacity have the power to consent to—and thereby, all else being equal, permit—their own medical treatment, but they lack the power always to refuse treatment and so render it impermissible. Other parties, that is, individuals who exercise parental responsibility or a court, retain the authority to consent on an adolescent’s behalf. We explore four defences of the doctrine. We reject two attempts to defend the asymmetry in the power to consent to and refuse medical treatment by reference to transitional paternalism. We then consider and reject a stage of life justification. Finally, we articulate a justification based on the distinctiveness of adolescent well-being.

Author Profiles

Anthony Skelton
University of Western Ontario
Isra Black
University College London
Lisa Forsberg
Oxford University


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