Consent for the Healthcare of a Child Part 1

Your children’s health and well-being are a major concern for parents during and after a divorce. Both parents want the best for their child but questions arise as to whom can give consent for healthcare of a minor child. The issue is complex and the answer is often dependent upon the individual circumstances. North Carolina law provides for different treatment of children and adults. In general, issues that involve children must require consent by the proper individual.

Children are not allowed to make their own healthcare decisions since they are not adults. They do not have highly developed maturity or reasoning experience, so these decisions must be left to the adults. In fact, scientific evidence now supports that theory that a person’s brain is not fully developed until the age of 25.

Healthcare treatment legally refers to any type of medical procedure or medical service and includes a variety of diagnostics, treatments and care such as laboratory tests, administration of medications, x-rays, blood transfusions, anesthetics and surgery.

Parental Consent

Parents generally have legal authority to provide consent for medical treatment of their child. The same applies to a legally appointed guardian or custodian, who is also allowed to consent to healthcare for a minor under their care.

In some cases, another adult may provide consent for some types of medical care of a minor child. In Loco parentis is a legal term that refers to a parent in standing. This is an adult who is standing in on behalf of the parent and has an informal arrangement to provide care. In North Carolina, someone standing in loco parentis is only allowed to consent to minor, routine procedures such as immunizations.

However, the courts may not oppose a person standing in loco parentis making an emergency health decision on behalf of the child, particularly when the child is seriously hurt and needs immediate medical attention.

Parents and legal guardians in Gaston and elsewhere in North Carolina are allowed by law to authorize a third-party adult to consent to a child’s healthcare on a temporary basis. The parent may permit the adult to authorize consent to medical care but cannot authorize someone to withhold medical treatment or to take away life-sustaining care.

Parental Refusal to Consent

One of the most common concerns occurs when a parent refuses to consent to healthcare of a child. If a physician deems medical care necessary but the parent refuses to consent, there is a legal resolution. The law provides a way to obtain a court authorization of consent for treatment. In order to obtain this legal consent, the treating physician must submit a written, signed statement that explains the condition of the minor and the reason the child’s condition would worsen if a medical procedure is not done. Another physician must also agree with the treatment request.

When Can a Minor Provide Consent to Healthcare?

While most times a minor child is not permitted to consent to healthcare, there may be some exceptions. In North Carolina, a minor is allowed to give consent to medical treatment if it is determined that they are able to make a sound decision. There is no specific age at which time a child may be considered to have this capability. Instead, each case is handled on an individual basis.

Minors who meet the decisional capacity requirement can make decisions regarding medical care for the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy, controlled substance abuse and emotional issues. Minors cannot consent to an abortion.

What Happens in an Emergency?

There are situations that occur when a minor is in need of emergency medical care but there is no adult available to provide consent. In North Carolina, the law allows a doctor to treat a minor child without the consent of the parent, legal guardian or other adult standing in for a parent under some circumstances. Generally, there are four distinct circumstances in which a doctor can treat a minor without consent. These include:

  • The minor’s parents or authorized person cannot be reached with reasonable efforts and the time requires that medical action be taken.
  • The identity of the minor is unknown. Therefore, the proper consent cannot be obtained.
  • The need for medical treatment is obvious and delaying care could be life-threatening to the child.
  • In cases in which contacting the minor’s parents or authorized person would delay treatment and cause the child’s condition to worsen.

Some issues regarding consent for healthcare of a minor can be complex. If you are in a situation that involves consent for the healthcare of a child, contact our dedicated legal team for assistance. We understand family law and will review all of the specific details of your case to provide you with options. Contact our Gaston family law attorneys at Arnold & Smith, PLLC for a consultation to discuss your situation.