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In this article, I examine the role of minors’ competence for medical decision-making in abstract modern American law. The doctrine of parental consent remains the default legal and bioethical framework for health care decisions on behalf of children, complemented by a complex array of exceptions. Some of those exceptions vest decisional authority in the minors themselves. Yet, in American law, judgments of minors’ competence do not typically trigger shifts in decision-making authority from adults to minors. Rather, minors’ decisional capacity becomes relevant only after legislatures or courts determine that the default of parental discretion does not achieve important policy goals or protect implicated constitutional rights in a particular health care context and that those goals can best be achieved or rights best protected by authorizing capable minors to choose for themselves. It is at that point that psychological and neuroscientific evidence plays an important role in informing the legal inquiry as to whether minors whose health is at issue are legally competent to decide.

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