Medical Care for a Child

Most commonly, it is a parent or legal guardian who seeks medical treatment for a minor child, or a child under the age of eighteen. A parent or legal guardian also has the right to refuse medical treatment for a child if the treatment is neither urgent nor routine. However, in emergency circumstances, or where a parent or legal guardian is unavailable, other people may be authorized to seek medical care and treatment for a minor child.
In most jurisdictions, a simple written form or statement signed by a minor child’s parent or legal guardian is sufficient to allow another person to seek medical treatment for a minor child. This document can be very specific about the type of medical treatment or care that the parent or legal guardian is allowing another person to obtain for the minor child, or it can give open-ended permission to the other person to obtain whatever medical care is necessary for the minor child. 
On the other hand, in the case of an emergency that is endangering the child’s life, it is likely that a medical provider and/or hospital can provide a minor child with emergency medical treatment as needed, even without any consent by a parent, legal guardian, or otherwise authorized person. Most commonly, these cases involve situations where a parent is unavailable to consent to treatment, and/or the minor child is incapacitated or unable to consent to treatment, either. However, in the case where a parent or guardian objects to needed life-saving treatment for a minor child, for example, the state may be able to step in and request the necessary treatment for the child, which may involve court intervention.
Furthermore, there are instances, depending on applicable state laws, where a minor child can consent to his or her own medical treatment or care.  In some states, a minor child over a certain age can consent to medical care for the purposes of contraception, treating venereal diseases, HIV testing, treating drug and alcohol addiction, prenatal care, treating mental health conditions, and/or abortion. Typically, a minor child must be in his or her teenage years before having the capacity to consent to any of these types of medical treatment. Additionally, if the minor child is emancipated under state law, he or she usually can consent to any sort of medical treatment or care. Whether a minor child is legally emancipated is a matter of state law, and eligibility for emancipation varies from state to state. For instance, in most states, marriage of a minor child makes the child legally emancipated. In other states, facts such as giving birth to a child or joining the military makes a minor child emancipated. 
Along with these laws governing whom can consent to a minor child’s medical treatment, laws also differ among the states with regard to access to a minor child’s medical records. In most cases, parents and legal guardians have access to their minor child’s medical records. A parent or legal guardian can also sign a release of medical information form that permits another person, such as a caretaker, to access a minor child’s medical records. An emancipated child would have access to his or her own medical records, as well.

The information on this page is meant to provide a general overview of the law. The laws in your state and/or city may deviate significantly from those described here. If you have specific questions related to your situation you should speak with a local attorney.

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