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Unpublished Paper
Shaping Parental Authority Over Children's Bodies
ExpressO (2009)
  • Alicia Ouellette, Albany Law School

U.S. law treats parental decisions to size, shape, sculpt, and mine children’s bodies through the use of non-therapeutic medical and surgical interventions like decisions to send a child to a particular church or school. They are a matter of parental choice except in extraordinary cases involving grievous harm. This Article questions the assumption of parental rights that frames the current paradigm for medical decisionmaking for children. Focusing on cases involving eye surgery, human growth hormone, liposuction, and growth stunting, I argue that by allowing parents to subordinate their children’s interests to their own, the current paradigm distorts the parent-child relationship and objectifies children. I propose an alternative. Pushing analogies developed in family law and moral philosophy to respect children as complete but vulnerable human beings, I develop a trustee-based construct of the parent-child relationship, in which the parents are assigned trustee-like powers and responsibilities over a child’s welfare and future interests, and charged with fiduciary-like duties to the child. Application of the trustee-based construct separates medical decisions that belong to parents, from decisions that belong to children and those that should be made by a neutral third party.

Publication Date
March 24, 2009
Citation Information
Alicia Ouellette. "Shaping Parental Authority Over Children's Bodies" ExpressO (2009)
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