At what age can someone make their own healthcare decisions? In the U.S., each state interprets this question a little bit differently. Generally speaking, the states recognize a parent’s right to make medical decisions for their children.

However, there are circumstances – whether it’s an emergency where the parent is not present or a delicate situation that involves privacy concerns – that may affect whether or not a doctor can treat a minor without parental consent.


In many cases, such as when their child is at school, or daycare, on a sports team, or is traveling on a school trip, parents sign a free medical consent form for their child. This consent form allows adults in charge of the event or trip to act quickly in the case of an accident.

But what happens when a minor seeks – or needs — medical care without their parent’s consent? State laws take into consideration several factors, including the individual’s age, emotional maturity, and the type of medical care in question.

For example, some states allow doctors to provide contraception, pregnancy testing, prenatal care, and delivery services to minors. Some states also permit doctors to provide minors with treatments to prevent, diagnose, or treat sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), substance use, or mental illness.

Understanding Medical Consent

 

The legal term “medical consent“ (or informed consent) Is crucial to this topic.

The four components of informed consent are

  • The patient must have the mental ability to make a healthcare decision.
  • The medical provider must give full details on the treatment in question, including any risks that may occur.
  • The patient must be able to comprehend this information.
  • The patient must give their consent without any coercion or duress.

When a patient is unable to give informed consent, and their surrogate (in this case, their parent) is not available, a physician may be able to provide treatment without informed consent. However, the physician should get permission for ongoing treatment from the surrogate or parent as soon as possible.

What Are Emancipated Minors and Mature Minors?

 

Two other legal terms that come into play in this discussion are “emancipated minor” and “mature minor.” These terms apply to young people the law considers as independent of parental control.

Individuals under the age of 18 who may give their own medical consent are grouped into—mature minors and emancipated minors. The term “mature minor” refers to someone under 18 who demonstrates the maturity and mental ability to agree to or refuse some forms of medical care and treatment.

The forms of care may include mental health evaluations, chemical dependency consultations, contraceptive and pregnancy care, and treatments for STDs. An emancipated minor is someone who is legally independent of parental control. Depending on individual state law, an emancipated minor is someone under the age of 18 who

  • lives separately from their parents and is independent of their support
  • is or was legally married
  • is or was a member of the U.S. military
  • is pregnant or is a parent of their own child

What is an unemancipated minor?

 

A person under age 18 who does not fall into one of the above categories is considered an unemancipated minor. However, there are some circumstances when doctors can provide medical care even to these individuals without parental consent.

Since regulations can vary from state to state, minors and parents need to be aware of the types of medical care that fall into this category where they live.

Here are some examples of minor consent laws:

  • In all 50 states and the District of Columbia, individuals age 12 and up may access medical treatment for the medical treatment of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) without parental consent.
  • Some states allow minors to obtain contraceptive services without parental consent or notification.
  • Minors may provide their own consent to outpatient mental health treatment in about half of the states.

Additionally, due to the increase in substance abuse you may have read about in the news headlines, most states have lowered the age for this type of healthcare without parental consent. In some states, a 12-year-old may receive confidential alcohol and drug counseling.

Hospitals and urgent care centers must use reasonable care to follow their state’s minor consent laws.

For information on the laws in your state about parental consent, visit your state health department’s website. It is essential to understand that both emancipated and mature minors must continue to follow state laws on activities that are restricted by age, such as voting, driving a motor vehicle, and buying smoking materials and alcoholic beverages.

Sources

https://www.ama-assn.org/delivering-care/ethics/confidential-health-care-minors

https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/emancipated_minor

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4008301/

Teenagers and Medical Care – When Is Parental Consent Not Required?

https://medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/mature+minor#:~:text=A%20young%20person%20who%20has,e.g.%2C%20consenting%20to%20medical%20care

https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/institutional_review_board/guidelines_policies/guidelines/informed_consent_minors

https://www.emedicinehealth.com/informed_consent/article_em.htm

https://www.jucm.com/constitutes-consent-treatment-minor-urgent-care/

 

 

 

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