Graduation Year


Document Type

Campus Only Senior Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts



Reader 1

Rivka Weinberg

Reader 2

Andrew Schroeder

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@ 2020 Kaeley R Stout


Young children, by nature of their age and immaturity, are considered unqualified to make autonomous decisions in a medical setting. Until they reach adulthood, their parents are charged with the difficult task of making choices to protect and ensure their child’s continued welfare. Although parents have some freedom to raise their children as they see fit, their scope of decision-making is not absolute. The state, as parens patriae for the non-autonomous, has the power to intervene on parents’ paternalistic rights when their choices are deemed inappropriate. In this paper, I explore three potential frameworks for guiding and intervening on parental decisions in the medical world: the child’s right to an open future, the best interests standard, and the harm principle. I perform a critical evaluation of each framework’s theoretical grounding, and consider the potential implications each standard has when implemented in a medical setting. Although both the open future standard and the best interests standard offer promising guidance in some instances, I argue that they reinforce unrealistic and unclear expectations of parental duties, especially when implemented as intervention principles. In contrast, I suggest that the harm principle presents a more reasonable threshold of intervention, but does not incentivize parents enough to be useful as a guidance principle.

This thesis is restricted to the Claremont Colleges current faculty, students, and staff.