The meaning of valid proxy consent for children has recently been the subject of an important debate between Richard McCormick and Paul Ramsey on the ethics of experimenting with children. Ramsey is willing to agree with McCormick that parental consent for a child to undergo some medical procedure is valid only if parents consider what the child would consent to if he could. But beyond this, Ramsey has a fundamentally different conception of the child from McCormick, and therefore gives a very different interpretation to this standard for valid proxy consent. In Ramsey's view, McCormick's basic mistake is to think of the child as a small adult, thereby overlooking the child's peculiar vulnerabilities and needs. In particular, McCormick fails to attend to the child's needs for "preservation in life and healthful growth". In this paper, the author pursues Ramsey's suggestion that a correct analysis of valid proxy consent for children would replace the "language of consent" with the "language of need". He does this by sketching a theory of parenthood that rests on two central notions: that of primary goods, as found in the writing of John Rawls, and that of autonomy.
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