The term "adolescence" is defined as "that age which follows puberty and precedes the age of majority." Black's Law
Dictionary 49 (6th ed. 1990). Taken at face value, the dictionary definition provides a certain and measurable upper
boundary of adolescence - a legislative designation of a chronological age. This author suggests, however, that adolescence
is not so simplistic a concept. For more than two decades, psychologists and sociologists have generally recognized
adolescents as a unique group of persons in our society. See Franklin E. Zimring, The Changing Legal World of Adolescence
at xi (1982). They have acknowledged that while "the beginning of adolescence can be set quite accurately (as it is defined
by the specific physiological criterion of sexual maturity), the terminal point of adolescence can only be approximated, for
there is no sharp differentiation between adolescence and adulthood." David Krech et al., Elements of Psychology 70 (2d ed.
1969). Legal doctrine has not yet been aligned with scientific data. As one commentator explains, "law and social science
have been talking past each other on issues relating to adolescence for quite some time .
.. [and] legal doctrines relating to
adolescence frequently appear strained and are susceptible to gross misinterpretation." Zimring, supra, at xiii. This Comment
illustrates Professor Zimring's observations by exploring the law's response to adolescents who refuse
This Comment primarily addresses the issues implicated when adolescents refuse "
-saving," not "
Refusal of life-saving
of curative treatment, thus creating a "
situation. Lisa Anne Hawkins, Note, Living Will Statutes: A
Oversight, 78 Va. L. Rev. 1581, 1595 (1992). On the
other hand, decisions regarding the discontinuation of
treatment involve a "quality of
" inquiry. Id. at
1595-96. The term "necessary medical treatment" will be used interchangeably with "
-saving medical treatment"
throughout this Comment.
See infra notes 13-17 and accompanying text (discussing the case of Benny Agrelo, a two-time liver transplant patient
who refused to continue his immunosuppressant regimen because of its debilitating side effects). Within the past several
years, the media have reported stories similar to Benny's. One of the most publicized cases of adolescent noncompliance with
-saving medical treatment involved 16-year-old cancer patient Billy Best. Billy ran away from home for several weeks in
October, 1994, with the intent of travelling from Massachusetts to California by bus, because he could not cope with the hair
loss, nausea and weakness from twice-monthly chemotherapy. John Ritter, Mass. Teen on the Run - from Chemotherapy,
USA Today, Nov. 11, 1994, at 8A. In a note he left in his bedroom before leaving town, Billy explained, "The reason I left is
because I could not stand going to the hospital every week.
.. I feel like the medicine is killing me instead of helping me."