The Mature Minor Doctrine: Should a Mature Minor Have the Right to Refuse Life-Sustaining Treatment in New York?

Mike Telfer, Government Law Review Member

Background

          In the area of medical decision making, minors “are presumed incompetent, and thus require the aid of parents or guardians to assist in the decision-making process.” [1]  Under common law, doctors were required “to obtain parental consent before treating a minor” and were liable for battery if a minor was treated without parental consent.[2]  The mature minor doctrine is the exception to the common law and essentially transforms a minor into a competent adult for medical decision making purposes.[3]  For the doctrine to apply, a minor must “demonstrate a sufficient level of maturity . . . to have their choices respected independent of third parties.”[4] 

          New York does not have a statutory law creating a mature minor doctrine or any case law recognizing its application in the state.  One lower court has refused to adopt the rule, holding that the “legislature or the appellate courts [should] take a hard look at the ‘mature minor’ doctrine and make it either statutory or decisional law in New York State.”[5]  While the courts in the State, like the Supreme Court, have recognized the right of competent adults to refuse life-sustaining treatment,[6] New York does not currently recognize the right of anyone under eighteen who is not married or a parent to refuse life-sustaining treatment by himself.[7]  When a minor is not a parent or married, the State or a minor’s parents can overrule a minor’s decision to refuse life-sustaining treatment if a court finds the minor’s decision is not in his best interest.[8]

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