15 is the Age of “Maturity”?

Marriaga-Alliance-Australia-Maturity-Age.jpgA 15-year-old girl was allowed to undergo surgery to remove her breasts after the Family Court decided she was “mature” enough to have the invasive operation. Irrespective of the court’s ruling, can a child really be informed enough to make this kind of radical decision?

As the Australian reported, the child in question was biologically born a girl, but has been living “as a boy” since 2014. The girl, now referred to as “Lincoln”, even had the sex on her birth certificate changed in 2015.

What is more, Lincoln decided to “be a boy” only after reading about gender dysphoria on the internet. Lincoln’s parents said that the year before, he had “started to refuse to wear more feminine clothing”, would insist on getting shorter hairstyles” and “also started to self-harm”.

Alarmingly, in his judgment finding that Lincoln was competent to consent to the medical treatment, Justice William Johnston of the Family Court also commented that:

“He was not very knowledgeable about details concerning possible side effects and complications of the surgery, but this did not strike me as being out of keeping with his stage of development.”

It seemed that the only risks of surgery Lincoln mentioned were financial. Asked about the downsides of the operation, Lincoln mentioned costs, but said:

“My Dad will be able to raise the money by selling (something) valuable that he owns.”

Even when the court warned Lincoln that the results of the surgery may not fulfil every expectation, Lincoln replied: “I can have follow-up surgery if necessary. Dr X does it for free.”

The court also had to prompt Lincoln to respond to the more permanent costs of surgery, particularly that it would render him unable to breastfeed a child if he changed his mind about transition.  Despite Lincoln’s alarming response (“I’d rather die than have a baby”), the court still managed to assess him as competent to make a decision about permanent surgery.

Australian law considers Lincoln too young to enter into a contract or vote in an election because it recognises that children are vulnerable to undue influence from their parents, their peers or – as seems possible in this case – things they read on the internet.

But the Family Court appears to be increasingly permissive of allowing children to make life-changing decisions. Just months ago, another 15 year old girl with gender dysphoria was allowed to undergo a double mastectomy.

However, what makes Lincoln’s case particularly unsettling is that the court ruled in favour of Lincoln despite his decision to live as a boy being only a recent development – not since Lincoln was a young child:

Unlike many of the gender dysphoria cases that come before the Family Court, Lincoln has not been living as a boy since he was a small child.

The usual process for children diagnosed with gender dysphoria is to start hormonal treatment to suppress puberty at about age 13, and for parents to then seek the court’s permission for stage-two treatment — where a child is given hormones of the opposite gender — from about the age of 16. Genital surgery is generally not contemplated until teenagers have reached 18.

It seems that the court is fine with allowing children to make irreversible physical alterations to their body for the sake of “gender” preferences, despite drastic and tragic consequences.

What do you think: are children capable of making these decisions? Or, should the court protect children from undergoing optional, irreversible procedures until they are adults?

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