Children = Property of Parents
I do not actually hold that position. That's Stengah's understanding of what I said about parental prerogatives, in his own shorthand. This topic has been discussed in the Circumcision thread and lately in the Conservatives vs. Women thread vis a vis minors opting whether or not to have abortion.
I think Hypatian covers the counter position nicely:
Assume I'm talking in specific about U.S. policy, but in general about ethics. While I don't believe that the U.S. policy ought to be instituted everywhere in the world, I do believe that the ethical questions and the correct answers to them are indeed universal. Of course, in a society that does not actually value human rights (and yes, the U.S. falls down here in more places than it should) many of the things I take as axioms would be controversial. Nonetheless, I stand by them.
This is not about the state. This is about society. The state's actions are the actions of society by proxy. The state's laws are the choices of society by proxy. When things are important, we put them into law so that they may be handled as fairly and consistently as possible. Because not every situation is the same, we entrust government officials with interpreting and implementing the law so that consistency does not override compassion.
In the case of children, the starting point is the idea that as a society, we consider parents to generally be "in charge" of their children. But at the same time, we know there are situations where this cannot be allowed. Children cannot be sold. They cannot be forced to toil in factories. They must be given at least a cursory education. They may be punished, but not abused. They must be cared for. Further, "parents" isn't quite right, because the people responsible for these things aren't necessarily the parents. They are the "legal guardians". That includes whoever cares for and makes decisions for a child, whether it's their biological parents, step-parents, adopted parents, grandparents, foster family, or whoever.
So, what is the philosophical foundation upon which this distinction rests, between the things that guardians are allowed to do to/for the children in their care and the things they are not?
My interpretation is that children must be treated as equal to adults. I don't mean that we don't or shouldn't recognize that they're not ready to exercise full responsibility for their actions—but even as we are allowing them to make mistakes or protecting them from making mistakes, they are still equal. It is very very easy to miss that, to treat them as less than a full human being just because their experience and emotional development are still a work in progress.
When the state steps in to a bad situation between a guardian and a child, it's doing so because of the law, because we as a society have decided that there are limits on what should be allowed. In general, these limits are quite broad, and guardians are usually given the benefit of the doubt when there is a doubt. (In fact, they're probably given the benefit of the doubt far more than the situation deserves.)
Why are there limits? Because as I said before, the guardians only hold the rights of their children in trust, because the guardians hold a position of great power in this relationship, and because we know for a fact that there are adults who abuse that position of power and authority, and have decided that children must be protected from such abuse. The vast majority of these protections are in place in an attempt to protect all minors, even those who we do not yet consider competent enough to exercise their judgement alone. They are put into the care of a different guardian who will hopefully do better.
We also have a principle where children can argue before the court that they deserve if not the full rights of an adult, at the least the autonomy of an adult. We do this because we recognize that some minors are far more mature than some adults. This gives a further release valve, by allowing for those minors who are demonstrably capable of making well-reasoned decisions to cease having a guardian altogether. There are generally limits on what the person, who is still a minor, is allowed to do, and government officials have the duty to monitor their well-being—but it's a much looser constraint than the guardian-child relationship. I think part of why this mechanism exists is that we know that once they reach a certain age, minors will run away from home to escape abusive situations. This mechanism is an attempt to replicate that in a more controlled way, in the hopes that at least some minors will choose this instead of choosing to run away, and that the support of social services will help them finish growing.
All of this is consistent with the idea that the minor's welfare matters, that they should be treated as a full human being even when we don't trust their judgement yet, and that parents are only the first most obvious trustee for the rights of a child.
I don't think the law, or most peoples' reflection on these things, are as explicit as I've laid them out here. But I do believe they come from a similar consistent sense of justice. It's a hard balance, because people are very very attached to their children—and because we know that even that attachment can sometimes cause problems. That's why this is public policy, and ethics, and not engineering.
And to connect this to our debate here: the tragedy of a minor becoming pregnant and disagreeing with her guardian about what course of action to take is tremendous, whether she's being forced into bearing a child or being forced into having an abortion. Not only does the mere fact that the minor is capable of becoming pregnant mean that she is at least coming near to the point where we consider her to be competent to make her own decisions, but any extended legal argument for removing guardianship, or emancipating the minor, or anything like that will take long enough to make the question at hand moot, as the pregnancy will likely have come to term.
Personally, if I had been in that situation as a teen I would be furious with my parents, and would take whatever further steps necessary to place myself in a more acceptable position after the pregnancy was over. If they would be willing to force my choice that way, I would not consider them fit to be my guardians. But then, I was exactly the kind of person who could reasonably argue for emancipation if I thought it necessary. Still, I expect I could have been forced to either bear a child or terminate a pregnancy by my parents before achieving emancipation if something like that happened, and that would have been awful.
The nastier side of things is for those who have strong opinions, but are not so sure of themselves. Who are worried about their ability to support themselves. Those who find the family bonds more important than the abuse being heaped upon them. They probably have no idea that anything like emancipation is possible—and even if it were, they probably wouldn't think to try to achieve it. If they're lucky, they might have other relatives they could go to for support who could contest the guardianship. Someone like this could also end up being forced into an action she doesn't want, but very well may end up having to remain with those who forced her into that action. That would be really really stressful.
Finally, note that I think the U.S. system already addresses these scenarios. It's just that I think it prioritizes the judgement of the guardian over that of the minor more than it should, and that in this specific scenario there's just not enough time to properly judge the maturity of the minor. (And, of course, a lot of social conservatives are arguing to roll some of these protections back.)
Overall, it's just really really hard to get right, because it's terribly hard to judge the content of peoples' hearts.
The real tragedy, of course, which we seem to have lost sight of, is simply that girls are made pregnant before they are ready to have a child. And again, the only solution to that is education and easy access to contraceptives for minors. It's a lot easier to avoid becoming pregnant if you know how—and we've all been young and know that for many young people, abstinence is a lot to ask. Hormones are pretty strong, huh? That's part of why we don't trust the judgement of minors.
But teens aren't universally stupid. They can in fact think about their situation and what they want to do. And the vast majority don't want to become parents as teenagers. Those who do, or think they do... well... trying to prevent someone from becoming pregnant if they really want to is a little tricky.
Still, the very least we can do is make sure that everyone knows how to choose not to. It's not perfect, but it's better than nothing.
It's very depressing that so many people in this country think that "nothing" is the right answer.
My own position is less well expressed over two threads and a heckuvabunch of posts. Let me start off with this:
The human brain matures until well into the 20s. There's evidence to suggest that a human isn't really fully done growing until then. More cogently, areas of the brain that continue to develop have to do with impulse control and risk assessment.
We also have psychological and psychiatric models of emotional and mental maturity.
Thus, we cannot expect teenagers to make mature decisions about pretty much anything, regardless of how we educate them. It's not the information that's lacking, it's nerve endings.
Theoretically, we could hard-wire teens through training not to have sex ever, but that's really not the same as actually giving them choices.
It is an inherent truth that parents have rights over their children, because they're bigger and more powerful. Whether or not that is moral according to your worldview is not part of this assertion. Parents can enforce their will on their children by dint of many mechanisms, some of which are biologically wired.
That said, it has happened that other parents together banded together to form things like tribes, and then kingdoms, and then states. States have power over all in their jurisdiction along the same lines; states can even force parents, through sheer might, to only have one child at a time. This can and has happened.
Is forcing children to work so that the family doesn't starve right or wrong? You think it's wrong. Well, how much money are you willing to put up to enforce that worldview on other people? Society isn't other people. The state is not "them." It's you. Or someone specific. If you enforce, through the state, a policy that children cannot work, but are not willing to pay the money to feed those on the fringes, then what you are really enacting is death penalties by dint of the crime of being poor, where the first to be executed are the children of poor people.
This is realpolitik.
Should the state take this responsibility? Shouldn't we first evaluate whether it can?
There are entire families of starving Filipinos throughout my country. The state cannot or does not act to succor them. Does it have the moral right to enforce your rule on a family? Doesn't a dying family have the right to save itself by any means within its power, including forcing its children to work?
Points of clarification:
So you're acknowledging that your argument against the right of a minor to an abortion is also an argument against the power of the state to compel a parent to save the life of their child?
Maybe, maybe not: the fact remains I've shown you how giving minors the right to abortions meets your own stated criteria for (as you see it) moving parental prerogatives to the state. So, logically, you should be on board with a minor's right to an abortion now that I've demonstrated that to you.
I don't recall giving any such criteria. I was clarifying that "giving the choice to the child" is not really what's happening. The state is taking parental prerogatives. I did not talk about any criteria wherein I would accept this as necessary.
You sound as though you are in favor of letting the parents make the decision in the example of the appendectomy too, even if they decide not to have it done which would clearly endanger the life of the child. Is that correct, or am I reading you wrong?
That is the point of medical consent; it is to have the legal executor make an informed decision, whatever it is. The parents may or may not consent; that is their right and responsibility. We cannot force this; it has not been considered moral in any bioethical conference I've been party to.
Honestly, I don't think your argument is nuanced at all. I don't say this to cause offense, but your argument is 'Parents have the right to make every decision for their kids up until their 18th birthday'. That's far from nuanced. I rather think that guided decision making is much more effective both in terms of outcomes as well as in terms of actually teaching kids to become responsible adults. I guess that's only tangentially related to the topic at hand, however. And Demyx brings up another good counter argument to your two-year-old-with-appendicitis objection.
Parents have the right and responsibility to make every legal decision for the kids up until their kids reach legal age. They cannot choose not to decide, and I would consider it remiss to leave it to the kids, themselves. Their inability to make choices well is the entire point for why we have parents as a social and legal entity in the first place.
Guided decision making is only sensible to the point where information is the only thing that is of consequence. We, as doctors, do not make medical decisions for anyone; we are charged with dispensing information to enable informed consent, instead.
We do not charge children as legal actors for reasons other than "they're stupid." There are specific reasons and inadequacies that children express that make them inappropriate legal actors. Of course, very young children often cannot communicate well and have problems with weighing future vs. present factors. They may also not be intellectually equipped to understand the situation at all; i.e. they cannot comprehend what "surgery" is.
Teens are better equipped for understanding and making sound decisions, but they are still not adults in terms of neurology, psychiatry, and behavior.