The right to consent to the medical care of a minor rests with the parents or guardian. This right may be delegated to others by a written authorization; some states provide for consent by other relatives if the parents are not available. As discussed in the section on emergency care, the courts are unlikely to find a health care provider liable for rendering emergency care to a minor if the person with the minor requests the care. Older minors may request their own emergency care, which, while not strictly legal, may be given without undue legal risk. It is legally more hazardous to deny a minor emergency care than to render it.
Rendering nonemergency care is less clear cut. In the absence of a person authorized to consent, the administrator should search for anyone authorized to consent under the applicable state laws. If no one can be found, the health care provider should try to get a court order authorizing care until the responsible persons can be found. If the minor has been deserted, child welfare should also be notified.
Most states have laws enabling minors to consent to their own care under certain circumstances. While these laws vary from state to state, they usually allow treatment for contagious diseases (including venereal diseases), drug abuse, and pregnancy. Abortion is also allowed by recent Supreme Court rulings, but most private health care providers still refuse to provide abortions, but most private health care providers still refuse to provide abortions to minors without parental consent. Still, these providers must be careful to not get in the position of harming a minor by refusing a therapeutically necessary abortion.
If a health care provider renders care to a minor under one of the allowed exceptions, the provider must be careful about protecting the minor's right of privacy. If the state laws do not specifically require informing the minor's parents, there is no basis for violating the confidential nature of the physician-patient relationship. Minors have the same expectation of privacy as adults.
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