Here is the section of the California Penal Code I believe Eugene is talking about:
West's Ann.Cal.Penal Code § 653
[cid:image001.gif@01CD5F9B.395E66B0]§ 653. Tattooing person under age 18
Every person who tattoos or offers to tattoo a person under the age of 18 years is guilty of a misdemeanor.
As used in this section, to "tattoo" means to insert pigment under the surface of the skin of a human being, by pricking with a needle or otherwise, so as to produce an indelible mark or figure visible through the skin.
This section is not intended to apply to any act of a licensed practitioner of the healing arts performed in the course of his practice.
I would think that a distinction between physical alteration of a child's body and other actions would indeed be a sensible one (though not always a dispositive one), and one that is consistent with our general view that physical alteration of another's body is an especially serious intrusion on that person. But let me ask Perry what he thinks of these hypotheticals:
(1) California law, as best I can tell, categorically bans all tattooing of under-18-year-olds. Let's go back to a time when tattoos were essentially permanent. Would parents nonetheless have a constitutional right -- just as the exercise of their parental rights -- to tattoo a child, especially one too young to have a view on the subject? Or could the state say that this is a decision that should be left to the person whose body this actually is, at a time when the person can make the decision?
(2) Say that parents decide to sterilize their child, perhaps because they believe that either God or Gaea doesn't want more children to be born on the planet, or perhaps because they have some genetic condition that they do not want the child to risk spreading. (Set aside the special case when the child is mentally retarded, unable or unwilling to use contraceptives, and unlikely to ever be able to make an informed decision about sterilization.) Do parents have a constitutional right to do this, or should this be left for the child to decide when he or she becomes an adult? I take it that whatever one might say of sterilization, one wouldn't say that it is necessarily an "unquestionably grave harm, physical or psychological"; quite a few sane adults choose to be sterilized. Of course it may be an unquestionably grave harm when done without the subject's informed consent; but why wouldn't removal of a functioning and an apparently quite sexually sensitive part of the body likewise be seen as a sufficiently grave harm? (Or is the point simply that it is "questionabl[e]" whether the removal really does affect sexual sensitivity?)
(3) Say that parents have a doctor perform an artificial insemination of their 14-year-old daughter, with the daughter's agreement; assume the daughter is sufficiently sexually mature that the pregnancy poses no medical risk. (There's also no sex involved, so it isn't a statutory rape question.) Perhaps one of the parents is dying and wants the experience of being a grandparent as quickly as possible, or perhaps they take "be fruitful and multiply" to mean "as soon as possible." I take it having a baby, even at 14, is not as such an "unquestionably grave harm, physical or psychological"; and I don't think the problem here is really that pregnancy is not "developmentally appropriate" as such. Rather, it seems to me that it's reasonable for the state to say that the decision about whether and when (and with what sperm) to become a parent is a decision that should optimally be made by an adult, or at least by someone older than 14. (While of course the 14-year-old could get pregnant the old-fashioned way, assume the law also prohibits that, by making it statutory rape on the man's part, and by making any adults who facilitate or encourage such an action accessories to statutory rape.)