49_Rutgers_L._Rev._1,_.DOC

49_Rutgers_L._Rev._1,_.DOC - Page 1 FOCUS - 23 of 26...

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Unformatted text preview: Page 1 FOCUS - 23 of 26 DOCUMENTS Copyright (c) 1996 Rutgers University, The State of New Jersey Rutgers Law Review Fall, 1996 49 Rutgers L. Rev. 1 ARTICLE: The Ultimate Test of Autonomy: Should Minors Have a Right to Make Decisions Regarding LifeSustaining Treatment? NAME: Jennifer L. Rosato TEXT: [*1] [*2] [*3] I. INTRODUCTION "Childhood is the kingdom where nobody dies." Edna St. Vincent Millay Unfortunately, Edna St. Vincent Millay was wrong: children do die. They die of the same causes as adults: from accidents, from terminal illnesses, and from AIDS. Children, however, do not have the same rights as adults to make life-sustaining treatment n2 decisions. n3 Adults possess a virtually unlimited [*4] right to make such treatment decisions for themselves, n4 [*5] whereas minor children ordinarily must rely on their parents to make treatment decisions for them. The state will interfere with the parents' decision only if the decision would constitute child abuse or neglect. Thus far, courts and legislatures have been reluctant to recognize a minor's right to make life-sustaining treatment decisions and, even in those cases recognizing such a right, the right has not been defined as broadly as that of an adult. In addition, most legislatures have excluded minors from statutes providing for living wills and other advance health care directives, regardless of the child's maturity or the gravity of the child's illness. Because of these inadequacies in existing law, it is time to rethink the categorical denial of a minor's right to receive or refuse life-sustaining treatment. In most circumstances, mature minors should be able to make life-sustaining treatment decisions themselves. Age should not impose an artificial barrier to a minor's right to self-determination. The recent cases of Benito Agrelo and Billy Best reinforce this conclusion. Although these minors initially were forced to receive life-sustaining treatment, they ultimately were able to exercise their right to self-determination. Benito (Benny) Agrelo was born with an enlarged liver and spleen. For the first fourteen years of his life, Benny endured two liver transplants and took various antirejection drugs that caused severe side effects. n8 Consequently, when he was four- [*6] teen, Benny decided to refuse further medication and his parents acquiesced in Benny's refusal. n9 The hospital responded by filing a petition pursuant to the state's child neglect statute. n10 Purportedly based on this statute, the state forcibly removed Benny from his home. Against his will, Benny was taken to the hospital for treatment to prevent his body's further rejection of the liver. n11 After a hearing, the court determined that Benny was mature enough to decide for himself whether to refuse fur- ther life-sustaining treatment....
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