May 19, 2006

Adult autonomy freak

One of the most difficult issues in the realm of bioethics is how to handle the decisions of and about children. The University of Chicago's very own Lainie Ross, associate director of the MacLean Center for Clinical Medical Ethics, has written a book addressing just that topic. The book, Children in Medical Research: Access versus Protection, tries to answer the question of whether or not a parent can enroll his or her child in a clinical trial for which the child will not benefit.I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Ross for the paper I am working on, and it turns out we're both "autonomy freaks" (her words, not mine) when it comes to adults, meaning that an adult in his or her right mind should be able to refuse any medical treatment, including lifesaving treatment. Things get tricky, however, when you start to define "right mind." Could someone in need of lifesaving treatment ever be in their right mind? Things get even trickier with children. Generally, one condition for being considered an adult in terms of decision making is being educated, which is often what disqualifies children, transferring their decision making power to the parents or gaurdian(s). What, however, happens when the parents are making decisions that, while legal, are not at all in the best interests of the children? Should the law be amended to intervene? As someone who likes to see less, not more, government involvement in private life (e.g. no sodomy laws, no residency restrictions, etc.), that is hard for me to argue.