As you probably know, Daniel Hauser and his mother are now fugitives from the law, in an attempt to avoid another round of chemotherapy. Judge Rodenberg has issued an order to have the boy seized immediately if he is caught and put in a foster home. District Attorney Olson is considering asking Rodenberg to jail Anthony Hauser, Daniel's father, until Daniel is found. That would in effect mean holding him hostage. The county sheriff has promised Mrs. Hauser on TV that she will not be incarcerated if she just comes back home.
Meanwhile doctors are worried that Daniel's growing tumor will shut off his windpipe and suffocate him while he is hiding from Rodenberg and Olson.
Now I'm going to say something that a lot of people would think is just plain insane.
Discussion of this event is generally framed in terms of the rights of the parents: do they have the right to refuse consent to medical care for their son. My thesis is that the consent that ultimately matters most is that of the child.
I've heard it said that, at the age of 13, Daniel cannot give informed consent. That is true of legally valid informed consent, but it is literally false if not qualified in that way. Surely, someone at that age is able to give or withhold consent. They are also able to be informed: I'm sure Daniel can understand and believe statements like "the doctors believe you will die if you don't undergo more chemotherapy, but have an 80 to 90 % chance of living if you do."
Can't he then base the former on the latter, ie., decide whether to give consent based on information? Of course, the standard answer to this is "no." Basing decisions on information, as opposed to emotion and superstition, is what rationality is, and children are not rational.
This seems to be the only real argument the authoritarian-paternalistic side of this issue has. We don't have to worry about the consent of children because they can't give consent. Consent is rational and they are not rational. This seems to imply that, if they could consent to anything, their consent would be enormously important, as it is in adults. However, they can't.
But they can. I am convinced, by my own experience, that the idea that children are irrational is is simply false.
What children lack, compared to us, is not reason but information. They know very little. But this is not the same thing as being irrational. Once given information, they can process it logically -- often more logically than adults. After all, they do not have an adult's investment in political, economic, and religious institutions that systematically inflame their fear, hate, greed, and powerlust.
I have no Utopian solution for this problem. A social system that, unlike ours, treated children as rational human beings would not work perfectly by an means. Above all, it would be difficult to determine what the judgment of a thirteen year old really is, given that evolution has hard-wired them to be strongly influenced by their parents. Right now, though, no one can deny that the current authoritarian and paternalistic system is imperfect as well. By trying to force the state's preferred medical treatment on Daniel, it has brought about a situation in which, as far as we know, he may be getting no treatment at all and may die very soon. Right now, the best that the officers of the therapeutic state and their apologists in the academy can hope for is that they will catch little Daniel, drag him back to New Ulm, separate him from his parents, and force him to suffer the horrors of chemotherapy more or less alone. Will they strap him down as the prepare the dump chemicals through the "port" they have already installed in his chest? Will they forcibly sedate him? Time will tell.