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J Med Philos. 2013 Jun;38(3):300-14. doi: 10.1093/jmp/jht016. Epub 2013 Apr 24.

Maturing the minor, marginalizing the family: on the social construction of the mature minor.

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Albert Gnaegi Center for Health Care Ethics, Saint Louis University, 3545 Lafayette Avenue, Suite 27, St. Louis, MO 63104, USA.


The doctrine of the mature minor began as an emergency exception to the rule of parental consent. Over time, the doctrine crept into cases that were non-emergent. In this essay, we show how the doctrine also developed in the context of the latter part of the 20th century, at the same time that the sexual revolution, the pill, and sexual liberation came to be seen as important symbols of female liberation--liberation that required that female minors be granted the status of a mature minor. To do so moves sexual morality out of the domain of the family, where it had always been situated, and into the domain of the state. We also show how a phenomenological account of the care of the body in the family conforms to the latest in neuroscientific understandings of adolescent brain development. The family attenuates the dependency of adolescents and provides an important social contextualization for the care of the body, including the inculcation of sexual mores in adolescence. We conclude that the drive to push sexual decision making as a matter of state concern further undermines the foundations of the moral meanings of sex and sexuality.


adolescent sexuality; child sexuality; emancipated minor; emergency contraception; mature minor

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