I missed this last week, but the Virginia General Assembly passed what should be a thought-provoking bill:
Virginia lawmakers passed a bill called “Abraham’s Law” yesterday after agreeing that 14 is the appropriate age for a teenager with a life-threatening condition to have a hand in making medical decisions.
The bill is named after Starchild Abraham Cherrix, 16, who won a court battle last summer to forgo chemotherapy and instead treat his lymphatic cancer with alternative medicine.
A judge had threatened to force Abraham to take conventional treatments and to take him away from his parents, who faced jail for allowing him to end chemotherapy and use alternative treatments. A compromise allowed Abraham to give up chemotherapy as long as he was treated by an oncologist who is board-certified in radiation therapy and interested in alternative treatment.
A 14-year-old is legally allowed to reject conventional medical treatment for a life-threatening illness. This is wholly appropriate, in my opinion, when viewed with the reality that minors are not automatically incompetent and the perspective of Mr. Cherrix’s battle last year. I’m glad to see the General Assembly acknowledging such rights.
Looking forward, if a 14-year-old can reject treatment in a life-threatening situation, how can we continue to assume that infants not facing a life threatening illness, or any illness at all to be more specific, should not be protected by default from circumcision? Essentially, the General Assembly seems to be saying that neither parents nor the state own the body of a minor. So what gives? Clearly parental “rights” have limits. Why is there a limit when there is a life-threatening illness but not when there is no illness?
Supporters of routine infant circumcision, or rather supporters of permitting parents to make their son’s decision for him, believe this issue rests on the child’s willingness and ability to consent. If the child is unable to consent, as would apparently be the case for a 13-year-old under this new legislation, the parents may make his decision they believe is in his best interest. But the standard focus should be on what a reasonable person would choose, if he could choose for himself. If nothing else, the existence of someone like Mr. Cherrix proves that common opinion does not mean universal. We could assume what he wants, but we’d be wrong. If individual liberty is to mean anything where the body is involved, it must be protected in all permanent medical decisions. This is particularly essential when the intervention is in no way medically indicated.
We can assume what an infant male would choose based on society, but there’s a significant chance we’d be wrong. The low incidence of adults choosing circumcision if they were spared as children should demonstrate that. Society was 100% wrong in my case. The law was wrong to allow it then. It is wrong to allow it today. It will be wrong to allow it tomorrow.