There is a story getting national attention about a 14 year old girl who has a fatal degenerative disease. It’s getting national attention because the girl has asked that treatments be withdrawn. Unfortunately, two discussions of the situation that I saw recently only confuse the issues the situation raises.
There are two clear issues raised by this situation. First, does a person have a right to refuse treatment, even if the treatment is necessary to keep the person alive? The answer is clearly, yes. A living will, recognized in Arizona and, I believe, all other jurisdictions in the United States, allows a person to direct that treatment be withheld or withdrawn. A health care power of attorney allows a person to delegate the decision to withhold or withdraw life-saving treatment to someone else if the person is no longer able to make or communicate the decision.
Second, can a fourteen year old child refuse treatment? I’m not sure, but I don’t think so. Fourteen year olds generally are considered legally incompetent to make decisions, with certain exceptions not relevant to this discussion. The child’s parents or legal guardian are the people who have the legal authority to make that decision for the child.
There is one big issue that this situation doesn’t appear to implicate: assisted suicide. Unfortunately, both of the discussions I mentioned earlier bring up that issue, without distinguishing it from the issue of refusing treatment. It seems obvious to me that assisting a person in causing the person’s death is different from withholding treatment at the request of the person receiving the treatment. Why bring up the difficult issue of assisted suicide when it doesn’t have anything to do with the situation?
I recommend that every adult should at least consider signing a living will. If you have not signed a living will and would like to consider it, let me know. I’ll send you the Arizona form, at no cost to you.
The contents of this blog, this web site, and any writings by me that are linked here, are all my personal commentary. None of it is intended to be legal advice for your situation.