Wisconsin teen's battle to stop treatment isn’t unique

SMU's Tom Mayo, a medical ethicist and law professor,

By Jim Collar
The (Appleton, Wis.) Post-Crescent

APPLETON, Wis. — A Wisconsin girl’s plan to halt treatment of her incurable disease has again raised the thorny issue of how much say minors should have in making life-and-death decisions.

The story about 14-year-old Jerika Bolen’s desire to enter hospice care drew national attention this summer. The massive, widespread response included considerable support and well-wishes — as well as criticism and pleas for the Appleton girl to change her mind. Several disability rights organizations have since called on child protection authorities to intervene.

Jerika’s situation is the just the latest of many that have drawn impassioned arguments on the roles of children in medical decision-making. Laws and precedents differ by state, and similar cases have brought different outcomes.

Tom Mayo, a medical ethicist at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, said it's an issue that's far from being resolved. There are a number of variables, and every state has different laws, rules and values, he said.

"The idea of children having rights, a voice and a role of their own medical decisions is a fairly new concept," Mayo said. "As these cases pile up, it's probably going to move, not toward uniformity, but to a center of gravity — but it's going to take time." 

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