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Minors' decision-making capacity to refuse life-saving and life-sustaining treatment: legal and psychiatric perspectives
journal contributionposted on 01.06.2014, 00:00 authored by Danuta MendelsonDanuta Mendelson, I Haywood
Laws in Belgium and The Netherlands permit euthanasia and assisted suicide for seriously ill children who experience "constant and unbearable suffering"--they have the capacity to request death by lethal injection if they convey a "reasonable understanding of the consequences" of that request. The child's capacity to understand death is therefore a prerequisite to the implementation of the request. However, modern neuro-psychological and fMRI (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) studies of the relationship between the neuro-anatomical development of the brain in human beings and their emotional and experiential capacity demonstrates that both are not fully developed until the early 20s for girls and mid-20s for boys. Unlike Belgium and The Netherlands, the clinical and legal implications of the immaturity of the brain on medical decision-making of minors, in particular life and death decisions, have been implicit in the Australian courts' approach to the refusal of life-saving and life-sustaining treatment by minors. This approach is exemplified by X v Sydney Children's Hospitals Network  NSWCA 320 (and a series of earlier cases).