Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Maturity and destruction

Note: this post is by PDF, not by the Devil himself...

So, the law reckons that if you're 13, you're grown-up enough to decide whether you live or die.

As a proper libertarian, that works for me as a concept. The most problematic issue with libertarianism is precisely when children stop being non-autonomous entities who need protected from whoever's claiming that right, and start being people who you can treat as entities in themselves who're allowed to make decisions in their own interests.

[and it's not one we've resolved, at all, ever, either: most libertarians, even the far-right-est ones, are aware that Fred and Rose West oughtn't to be allowed, but there's pretty much no consensus beyond that. Some people who view themselves as libertarians actually think that parents ought to be allowed to indoctrinate their kids in religious fundamentalism - seriously, unless one views kids as literally chattels, there's nothing beginning with 'liber' going on there.]

Nonetheless, the implications for society of the decision are either significant and deeply weird, or more likely will be hushed up. But on the grounds that you illustrious readers are in the 'not being mental about this sort of thing' bracket: which do we think is the more important decision, with the gravest consequences, which requires the most maturity to reflect on it? Is it a) 'whether or not I live or die?', or is it b) 'do or do I not allow people I like to put bits of them in close proximity with bits of me'?

Cos I'm reckoning that b) is fairly trivial in the long run, whilst a) is quite a bit more significant. And whilst personally I'd sooner die than have any kind of prolonged contact with a 13-year-old girl (not morally - just I'm not a big fan of whichever iteration of S-Club or Kylie or ITV-prompted fake music is currently ongoing, sorry), it seems utterly bizarre to impose that rule on life-in-general if we think the girl making the decision has the right to do herself in (in a situation where many people, me included, would do the same - but where there is a really really fucking enormous decision that the law is accepting, rightly, her right to make).

And no, I have no sodding idea how to resolve this either as a libertarian or not, but perhaps if we stopped appropriating people of various ages to support our own political agendas then that would help (see: idiots who think that because supporters of Mr Ross and Mr Brand in the recent pointless fuss are younger than them, their views are meaningless). Anything welcome, although I'm sceptical that you're going to come up with a non-arbitrary way of justifying the status quo...


Peter said...


"(see: idiots who think that because supporters of Mr Ross and Mr Brand in the recent pointless fuss are younger than them, their views are meaningless)"

- Who are these idiots? Who made such a ridiculous claim?

pdf said...

Not DK, PDF. And in terms of people making such a ridiculous claim, Richard Ingrams is primus inter pares; Google News will throw up many more.

TheFatBigot said...

Methinks you identify a non-existent problem.

Being only 13 the decision was not for her to take, it was for her parents to take. They agreed with what the girl herself wanted and it was their refusal to allow her to undergo a heart transplant that caused the little Hitlers of social services to go bananas.

18 is the age at which our decisions become our own. Whether 16 would be preferable, or indeed 13, I know not because there can be no right and wrong about it. At some age children are children and their must take the important decisions about what happens to them. 18 doesn't seem to cause a problem so I'd suggest leaving it there.

TheFatBigot said...

woops ... "and their parents must take"

pdf said...

"my Tracy really loves her Darren, so I'm happy for them to go out together". At that point social services should get lost, right?

(also, 'little Hitlers'? Fuck off.)

AMcGuinn said...

You could make the point that a 13-year-old who has lived with life-threatening illness her whole life is probably a lot more adult than quite a few 20-year-olds.

But, as you say, there are no easy answers.

Anonymous said...

Its been a while since I read it, but in Rothbards "Ethics of Liberty", children ARE considered chattel or property of the parents.

John said...

Surely, despite the lurid headlines, this girl has not been given the 'right to die'. She has been given the right to refuse invasive, risky medical treatment.

The Secret Person said...

Well maybe something like the current situation, whereby parents have the rights to make the decision up until 18, but it can be appealed in a court, either by doctors or by the child, and then an independent judge decides.

After all doctors are committed to keeping people alive, with no regard for the quality of life. Parents obviously have vested interests, or could just be bad parents. Kids have varying levels of maturity to make their own decisions.

A one size fits all would be crazy, and its a rare case so why not leave things as they are. Parents are default deciders, but can be argued in court. I think the right decision was taken in this case, and if it ain't broke...

Anonymous said...

This is not a ground-breaking case. It is all based on pre-existing law.


"As a matter of Law the parental right to determine whether or not their minor child below the age of sixteen will have medical treatment terminates if and when the child achieves sufficient understanding and intelligence to understand fully what is proposed." Lord Scarman

Wasp_Box said...

@Anonymous 8.33,
Quite right. I suspect this girl is very clear on her options - it appears that she has been very unwell for most of her life.

@The Secret Person,
"After all doctors are committed to keeping people alive, with no regard for the quality of life."

Well, no, they should not be (I'm afraid some are however). The doctors job is to relieve suffering and if, in some cases, life is shortened then so be it. I have always thought:
"Thou shalt not kill; but need'st not strive
Officiously to keep alive"
was appropriate for clinicians to keep in mind.

Henry Crun said...

This is such a difficult area of law.

In the last couple of weeks the court denied a woman with MS or MND (can't remember which and can't be arsed looking it up) who petitioned the courts not to proecute her husband if he helped her take a trip to Switzerland so she could end her life as painlessly as possible. There was also the case of the rugby player who's parents were shopped by social services because they took him to Switzerland so he could end his life.

I have a cousin who's adopted and severly disabled son has a heart condition. His sixteenth birthday is only a few weeks away but he is now critically ill in hospital. My cousin has said that if there is any indication that their son is in any pain whatsoever and is only being kept alive by a respirator, then bugger what the doctors say, she'll switch the machines off herself.

Hannah Jones has, in her own mind, weighed up the pros and cons of having a heart transplant operation. An operation that could well kill her.

Personally, I think she has made the right choice, and we should salute her bravery. And it's not an uninformed choice Hannh has made, her mum was an intensive care nurse so will know exactly what Hannah will have to go through.

Social services should concentate on keeping babies from being battered to death rather than chasing easy targets.

haddock said...

there are only a few possibilities here; someone is responsible for a decision. It could be the child, the parents, or 'the state'.
I find it a bit odd that libertarians would countenance the last option.

Your body when you want to smoke, drink, get a tattoo or body piercing, overeat or have sex..... but the state's when an important decision comes along ?

The kid seems far more grown-up than any social worker I've ever met.

Tim said...

Is 10 not the age of criminal responsibility? So she's got a pretty good idea of what's going on, right and wrong, according to that kind of precedent (yes, i know they're very different examples, i just mean this to show that not everything's decided at 16, 18 or 21)

DavidNcl said...

"Some people who view themselves as libertarians actually think that parents ought to be allowed to indoctrinate their kids in religious fundamentalism "

Leaving aside how we determine what is religious fundamentalism rather than say acceptable spiritual leanings...

... Just how do you plan to prevent the devoutly religious indoctrinating their children? What machinery will you use? Social Services and care homes? Courts and Cops? Soldiers and re-education camps?

Since they are fundamentalists when you tell them to stop they will not do so. What then?

boatangdemetriou said...

Really it's her parents tht should be dragged out before the media and shat on.

The funniest thing about all this is how the Mail has wheeled it out as a victory of choice, or some such bollocks.

How, as parent, can you answer your 13 year old daughter's question of 'Daddy, I want to day because the operation hurts', with 'Go on then'?

She's 13 for fuck sake!!

They need to get that Super Nanny bird in if you ask me.

boatangdemetriou said...

Oh bloody hell. Die not day! (please read this in context otherwise it's a bit grim).

Don't know what's wrong with me to-die.

Chalcedon said...

She is a minor andit's up to her parents to take the decision, but in real life of course they will talk to her to get her views. Bearing in mind she is a child cancer victim (leukaemia) and has undergone years of chemotherapy (it makes you feel terribly ill, you are sick all the time, anaemic, tired and your hair falls out and you become sterile too.....great eh, all down to the therapy) plus this poor kid gets a damaged heart too. If she has a heart transplant there is a significant chance of death on the table plus with a reduced immune system owing to the anti rejection drugs and increased chance of cancer. The therapy will bugger the new heart. If she feel her quality of life is best by just living out what's left of her life in the security of her home with loving parents, so be it. I was blessed with 3 girls and thank God all are fit and well.

xelent said...

I think the answer is simple.. It’s down to the child to decide in conjunction with the advice of their parents..

After al it is parents who took the responsibility for having that child.. But I don’t agree with Rothbards analogy that they are the chattel of their parents.. Children have as much a right to freedom as adults.. Caring, honest and loving parents will no doubt guide these children in a rational and well-considered manner..

I know that I’m likely to be flamed on this one, as some will believe that some parents are incapable of such shared decision making with their children.. This is where the confusion takes hold in our minds.. We see such despicable behaviour from certain parents and we wonder how this could ever change.. However if freedom is sacrosanct then we must opt for the free choice of the individual good or bad, even from children..

And I do not mean we can’t forcibly restrain a child from running into the road.. Or that we allow our children to be rude and violent towards others.. But that we must learn to respect the independence and free nature that a child is born with.. That they are indeed reflections of ourselves, that we bear a great responsibility for..

I can’t say this enough, if we treated are children in this way we would be building a generation that would love freedom and understand individual responsibility..

haddock said...

"Some people who view themselves as libertarians actually think that parents ought to be allowed to indoctrinate their kids in religious fundamentalism "

some people think that bringing up children is their fucking business and not that of prod-nose officials....or libertarians trying to impose their atheistic wishful-thinking politics on them.
I would rather god in the sky than pie in the sky, thanks all the same chaps.

Does anyone else find this sudden flood of 'libertarians' telling us what we should/should not do/think/teach our children totally fucking ridiculous. I've no problem with them all chatting among themselves about how to make an ideal world ( where they presumably are in charge of us ) but authoritarian libertarians are a bit fucking tiresome.

judith said...

As reported, it seems everyone was ok with the girl's decision for no more treatment until a locum doctor interfered and everything became unbelievably scary and heavy-handed.

Where was the lead Consultant in all this? where was the hospital's Ethics Committee?

Threatening to remove the girl from her loving parents at a time of such agony was unbelievable - and how tragically ironic in the week when the case of Baby P was revealed.

In answer to your question, DK, surely the only response can be an invocation to common sense, a virtue that seems to have been binned to make way for bureaucratic form-filling and State Responsibility-Avoidance Officers.

DavidNcl said...

haddock ,

I am a both a libertarian (of some stripe) and an atheist. I have no intention of trying to impose my atheism on you or your children. I would suggest than anyone trying to do such a thing is not a libertarian (of any stripe).

ANL said...

Libertarianism is clear on this. Everyone has the right to try and talk, bribe, argue her out of it but no-one has the right to force her to have the operation.

Whatever role parents my play, and its pretty limited, her body is her own.

"Being only 13 the decision was not for her to take, it was for her parents to take....18 is the age at which our decisions become our own. "

What? Because the state says so?

As soon as any human is capable of articulating his or her will, whether they be mad, young, old, weak, on drugs etc., then they have full property rights to their body, including what treatment they wish to pursue.

Anonymous said...

I completely agree, anl - and that's the position of the law as well, as decided in Gillick in the 1980s (linked to above at 10.33).

Dave H. said...

What I could never understand is how the operation could go ahead in practical terms. If she resisted, would they call security and physically force her? To me that seems so horrible that, yes, despite her youth she has the right to decide. I just hope the poor kid doesn't change her mind...

"...parents ought to be allowed to indoctrinate their kids in religious fundamentalism..."

If parents were absolutely certain their kids were going to hell for eternity if they didn't, then I'd be surprised if they did otherwise. Maybe we'll all find out they were right? If it were the Devil posting this I'd ask.

xelent said...


You are such a straw man...

emily said...

Seriously haddock, fuck off. You ruin every comment thread with your shite.

& yes, I am telling you what to do, but that's ok because I'm not a libertarian.

Anonymous said...

what strikes me is the eerie good timing with which the state's spot on treatment of this case hit the headlines the same week as the ending of the criminal case surrounding baby p and resulting publicity.

Tomrat said...


Precisely what do you mean by "religious fundamentalism"? Elaborate.

As for the age question I think this is one of the few areas, along with the rights of the individual, where a clean line should be drawn; below a certain age (including mental age) you cannot guarantee that the individual makes the correct choice as to their conduct and that a parent or guardian (however you want to handle the concept of "guardian") should ultimately be responsible for those choices.

Methinks the age of 16 would be a perfect compromise; I think the judaic guide of 13 for entry into adulthood is a little low...