In Virginia, age 16 is old enough to drive a car, work a 40-hour week, stand trial in adult court, and marry.
Whether 16 is old enough to reject traditional cancer treatment is at the heart of a trial slated to begin next week on the Eastern Shore town of Accomac.
Starchild Abraham Cherrix, a 16-year-old suffering from Hodgkin's disease, has refused chemotherapy and radiation treatments ordered by his oncologist in favor of an herbal remedy prescribed by a Mexican clinic.
If Abraham, as he is known, were two years older, the decision would be his alone and no court could challenge his choice, no matter how medically unorthodox. But because he is a minor, social services authorities have intervened.
In the proceeding that begins in Accomack County Circuit Court on August 16, government lawyers will accuse his parents, who support Abraham's herbal treatment, of medical neglect for not ensuring their son receives chemotherapy and radiation. If they are successful, the judge is likely to give partial custody to the state and order Abraham into a hospital for treatment.
Although the right of states to compel medical treatment for gravely ill children over their parents' wishes is well established, Abraham's case is noteworthy because he has articulated strongly his own reasons for refusing conventional treatment.
"I should have the right to tell someone what I want to do with this body," he told USA Today last month. "I studied. I did research. I came to this conclusion that the chemotherapy was not the route I wanted to take."
Other cases often turn on a parent's religious beliefs, but the Cherrixes say that while they are devout Christians, their decision is based on Abraham's own negative experience with a first round of chemotherapy and his evaluation, seconded by his parents, of alternative treatments based on that experience.
"When Abraham mentioned that he didn't want to take radiation and that he wanted to try alternative treatments, I tested him and questioned him to make sure that was what he really wanted to do," Jay Cherrix said. "I researched it myself and saw that there were other options."
State authorities acknowledge the case is not an easy one and said they are concerned only with the teenager's health.
"One of the most difficult decisions of the Child Protective Services program requires balancing the rights of the parents with the health of the child," Anthony Conyers Jr., State Social Service commissioner, said in a statement about Abraham's case.
The trial comes as Abraham's health continues to deteriorate.