Illinois Recognizes the “Mature Minor Doctrine” in Some Cases

January 29th, 2015 at 12:22 pm

mature minor doctrine in Illinois, Chicago family law attorneyA 17-year-old Connecticut girl diagnosed with cancer was removed from her home after doctors reported her mother for medical neglect. The state’s Department of Children and Families took temporary custody of the teenager, who refused to undergo chemotherapy. The single mother supported her daughter’s wishes, arguing that the teen is mature enough to make her own decision. A unanimous Connecticut Supreme Court disagreed and ruled that the state can force the teen to receive medical treatment.

A similar case emerged in Illinois almost 30 years ago. In that case, a 17-year-old Jehovah’s Witness diagnosed with leukemia refused a medically necessary blood transfusion. A court found the mother guilty of medical neglect and appointed a temporary guardian to make decisions regarding the teen’s cancer treatment. However, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that the teen could refuse life-saving medical treatment with court approval.

The Mature Minor Doctrine

The “mature minor doctrine” has been recognized by several states, including Illinois. In these states, the law gives minors an opportunity to prove they are mature enough to make medical decisions for themselves. Other states that recognize the mature minor doctrine include:

  • Maine – In 1990, the state Supreme Court held that doctors should respect a 17-year-old’s wishes (the teenager was in a vegetative state) about not being kept alive artificially;
  • Massachusetts – The state allows mature teenagers to refuse medical treatment for religious reasons;
  • Montana – Statutory law permits minors who have graduated from high school to make medical decisions for themselves;
  • Tennessee – The state follows the “Rule of Sevens“: Under the age of 7 there is no capacity; between the ages of 7 and 14, there is a rebuttable presumption that there is no capacity; and between the ages of 14 and 18, there is a rebuttable presumption of capacity; and
  • West Virginia – The state Supreme Court set forth seven factors that courts should consider when determining whether a minor is mature enough to make his own medical decisions. Those factors are age, ability, experience, education, exhibited judgment, conduct and appreciation of the relevant risks and consequences.

Medical Neglect

The “mature minor” line of cases is not the only scenario involving child medical neglect. For example, an Illinois judge recently considered a medical emergency custody case involving an out-of-state teenager. In that case, a Missouri teen hospitalized in Chicago became a ward of Illinois once the medical facility reported his mother for medical child abuse. Specifically, the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services placed him under temporary protective custody, arguing that the mother had interfered with the medical treatment of her child.

Illinois parents can be found guilty of neglect if doctors determine that a child is not receiving necessary care or medical treatment. If you risk losing custody of your child due to allegations of medical neglect, contact one of our Illinois family law attorneys today at (312) 345-9999. Anderson & Associates, P.C. helps clients from our offices in Schaumburg, Wheaton, Northbrook, Orland Park, and downtown.