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43_Fam._Ct._Rev._527,_ - Page 1 FOCUS 1 of 26 DOCUMENTS...

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Page 1 FOCUS - 1 of 26 DOCUMENTS Copyright (c) 2005 Blackwell Publishing Family Court Review July, 2005 43 Fam. Ct. Rev. 527 STUDENT NOTE: Nonjudicial Alternatives for Resolving End-of- Life Decisions for Minors NAME: Joanna M. Canter HIGHLIGHT: This note will discuss end-of- life decision making for minors. Minors who suffer from a terminal illness or who are in a persistent vegetative state are "children on the edge"--they are on the edge of life and death, as well as on the edge of the law. The judicial system and legislative action have proven to be ineffective tools in helping families find a peaceful resolution to life -threatening questions. Judicial intervention is often intrusive, as well as emotionally and financially difficult for the family to endure. As a result, alternatives have arisen, such as hospital ethics committees and medi- ation, which address these issues. These alternatives demonstrate respect for patient autonomy and family privacy, by considering the family's wishes in addition to the minor's medical condition. If people avail themselves of the resources already in place, judicial intervention only becomes necessary in extreme circumstances. Nonjudicial alternatives provide a more appropriate forum for resolution than the courtroom by eliminating opportunities for public spectacle and family intrusion. INTRODUCTION This is a medical ethics note focusing on end-of- life decision making for minors and the concomitant dangers of judicial intervention. Placing the decision to discontinue life -sustaining treatment "in the hands of the court" interferes with the parent's right to make medical decisions for his or her child. n1 When the court plays an active role in end-of- life decision making, what was once a private familial affair is quickly publicized. Public exposure leads to political posturing and the threat of outside groups overriding parental decision making. Public exposure also immobilizes the ability of the child's legal guardian to work together with the medical community to reach a medically appropriate decision. This note advocates an alternative to judicial interference in right-to-die cases involving minors. It is possible for the family of a terminally ill child or a child in a permanent vegetative state to utilize the hospital system to reach a medically ethical decision and avoid the legal labyrinth. Moreover, this approach is a desirable alternative. The decision to withdraw a terminally ill child from life support treatment is best decided by the medical community and the parents without judicial intervention for the following three reasons: (1) to require the court to sanction the parents' decision in conjunction with the medical community to withdraw life support would undermine family privacy and the deeply rooted parental right to make med- ical decisions on behalf of their minor child; (2) other states have adopted surrogate decision making laws which have effectively balanced the state's interest in preserving life and protecting children with
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