Transgender Youth, Adolescent Decisionmaking, and Roper v. Simmons


Transgender youth who seek access to hormones encounter a number of barriers that frustrate their ability to express their gender identity and exacerbate the effects of the overwhelming levels of discrimination and harassment they face on a daily basis. Because the parents of transgender youth are often hostile or absent, the parental consent requirement imposed by informed consent laws adds to these barriers. In some states, transgender youth can overcome the obstacles imposed by the parental consent requirement by invoking the mature minor doctrine, which allows physicians to provide medical services without parental consent to adolescents who are sufficiently mature to make the decision. Thus, in this context youth benefit when the law recognizes their decisionmaking capacity.

In the criminal justice context, in contrast, youth are more likely to benefit when the law recognizes the limits of their decisionmaking capacity. When the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated the juvenile death penalty in Roper v. Simmons, for example, it relied in part on a view of adolescents as less mature and therefore less culpable than adults. The Roper Court emphasized three areas of difference between adolescents and adults: impulsivity, susceptibility to peer pressure, and incomplete character formation.

This Comment evaluates the implications of the Roper Court's view of adolescence in the context of transgender youth seeking access to hormones by invoking the mature minor doctrine. A careful, context-specific analysis of the adolescent characteristics identified by the Roper Court shows that, rather than posing a conceptual barrier, the decision supports a presumption in favor of allowing transgender youth to obtain hormones without parental consent.

About the Author

Articles Editor, UCLA Law Review, Volume 56. J.D. Candidate, UCLA School of Law, 2009; B.S., Princeton University, 1998.

By uclalaw