The Implications of Minor's Consent Legislation for Adolescent Health Care: A Commentary
The increasing emergence of legislation providing for minors' consent for health care furnishes a range of basic medical, legal, and social issues which require the thoughtful consideration of physicians caring for youth. The legislative provisions referred to account for a variety of consent situations ranging from the care of a specific illness or disorder to the dramatic lowering of the age for which consent for health care can be given.
The ultimate conflict in the matter of minor's consent is between the basic rights and responsibilities of parents concerning their children and the emergence of the concept that youths have the right to make decisions relating to their bodies and their care. When the preservation of privacy and confidentiality affects the utilization of health care by youth, the conflict must be resolved. Not only have state legislatures provided varying opportunities to resolve some of these issues, but also two major health organizations concerned with the health of youth have provided model acts which would serve as a basis for enabling young people to consent for confidential, comprehensive health care.
In recent years society has demonstrated a tendency to permit young people to determine a variety of aspects of their own affairs well before the traditional age of majority. In regard to health decisions, a number of situations have emerged in which the rights of youths deserve consideration. These include circumstances in which the person might avoid health care if the parents have to be informed, when a communication breakdown between the young person and the parents has taken place, if a need for emergency care occurs when parents cannot be reached, or when young people are living away from home in an adult life style.
Legislative responses to the sociohealth concerns affecting youth do not take a moral or judgmental position, nor do they infer a lessening of the importance of family integrity. They do respond to a number of reality health matters with high incidence which have emerged, particularly in the past decade. These laws do not require physicians to treat young people on their own consent, nor do they forbid physicians from informing parents if this is considered in the best interest of the patient. Furthermore, it is important for the physician to persuade youths to involve their parents and gain their support and understanding. Minors' consent can serve to restore interrupted communication between young people and their families.
The appearance and evolution of the "emancipated minor" and the "mature minor" concepts is recognition of the capacity of the adolescent to determine his own affairs and give an informed consent. The age at which human beings reach maturity is variable, and competent decision making is not assured by arrival at a certain chronological age.
- Copyright © 1974 by the American Academy of Pediatrics