Can a Minor Give Medical Consent?

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Historically, state laws in the U.S. have recognized the right of parents to make healthcare decisions for their children. This recognition is based on the understanding that minors lack the knowledge and maturity to make informed medical decisions.

However, there are some sensitive situations when parental consent may not be appropriate. Some states make exceptions to the rules of parental consent when it might deter a young person from obtaining timely medical care. This article will discuss when a minor can give medical consent through the use of a child medical consent template.

Medical Consent

What Is Medical Consent?

First, it’s essential to understand what the term medical consent (also called informed consent) means. A patient’s informed consent to medical treatment is critical to both law and ethics.

Under the law, patients have the right to receive information about their health and ask questions about recommended treatments. This information should help them make well-considered decisions about their care.

The four principles of informed consent are

  • The patient must have the mental capacity to make the decision.
  • The medical provider must provide detailed information on the treatment, procedure, or tests in question, including any benefits and risks that may occur.
  • The patient must comprehend this information.
  • The patient must voluntarily give their consent without any coercion or duress.

In emergencies, when the patient is unable to participate in this decision-making, and the patient’s surrogate (or in this case, parent) is not available, a physician may provide treatment without informed consent. In such situations, the physician should obtain permission for ongoing treatment as soon as possible in keeping with the previous guidelines.

What Are Mature Minors and Emancipated Minors?

Under certain circumstances, young people may not seek healthcare because they do not wish to involve their parents in the decision, or they do not think their parents will give their consent. Children under the age of 18 who may provide medical consent may be grouped into two categories—mature minors and emancipated minors.

In some states, the consent of a parent or guardian is not necessarily needed for mature minors. The term “mature minor” refers to an individual under 18 who demonstrates the maturity and mental competency to consent to or refuse some forms of medical treatment or care.

The forms of care may include mental health and chemical dependency consultations, contraceptive and pregnancy care, and treatments for sexually transmitted diseases.

Another young person who can give their own consent to medical treatment is an emancipated minor. This term is given to a young person who is legally independent of parental control. 

Depending on state law, an emancipated minor is a young person who is

  • Living separately from their parents and independent of their support
  • Currently or formerly legally married
  • A current or former member of the U.S. military
  • Pregnant or a parent of their own child

Although physicians may work with these adolescents in an effort to involve their parents in their medical care, they will provide care without parental notification or consent as state law allows. It is important to note 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 alcohol and smoking materials.

What Healthcare Services Can Minors Give Medical Consent?

As we have mentioned, minor consent laws vary from state to state. Parents and adolescents need to make sure they understand the rules of their state regarding what treatments are considered confidential and subject to a minor’s consent.

Here are some examples of how the states compare and contrast on the subject of minor consent.

  • In all 50 states and the District of Columbia, minors age 12 and up are allowed to access health care without parental permission for the medical treatment of sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
  • Some states and the District of Columbia allow minors to obtain contraceptive services without parental notification.
  • In most states, minors may give their own consent for treatment for substance abuse.
  • In about half of the states, minors may give their own consent to outpatient mental health care.

Other Situations When Someone Other Than a Parent May Give Permission to Treat a Minor

Parents may choose to give another person the power to consent to medical treatment for their child on their behalf. Parents often must sign emergency medical consent forms for schools, daycares, and youth sports organizations, for example.

Urgent care centers and hospital emergency rooms must use reasonable care to comply with their state’s informed consent and consent-to-minors laws.

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