Minors’ Right to Consent to Health Care

MOAPPP supports:

Minnesota Statute 144.341-347 which guarantees minors’ right to consent to confidential services including:

Emergency medical care
Pregnancy-related care
Care for sexually transmitted diseases
Contraceptive care
Inpatient mental health services
Treatment for alcohol and drug abuse

The confidentiality assured by this right to consent is a basic principle of adolescent health care that is essential in promoting the health of adolescents. Protecting Minn. Stat. 144.341-347 is critical for youth to seek and receive medical care.

Medical professionals support minor consent
Physicians, and other medical professionals, have long supported and clearly understood the importance of minors’ right to consent to their own health care and therefore be able to receive such services confidentially. The American Medical Association has publicly supported minors’ right to consent to their own health care for the last 30 years. In 1992 the AMA National Coalition on Adolescent Health asserted that: "Adolescents are more likely to seek health services on a timely basis if they are assured about the confidential nature of the health visit, particularly for problems that are sensitive in nature."2

Minor consent ensures access to health care
Research indicates that adolescents may not access health services without that guarantee of confidentiality. A nationwide study of 6,748 girls and boys in grades five through twelve found that "a significant number of girls (thirty-six percent) sometimes did not get medical care when they needed it because they did not want to tell their parents about the problem." Another commonly cited study found that if parental knowledge was required, only 15% of adolescents would seek care for venereal diseases. However if confidentiality was assured, an additional 50% of adolescents would seek care for venereal diseases.

Adolescents are facing many health risks
According to the American Medical Association, "Confidential health services have become increasingly important as the severity and prevalence of adolescent health problems have increased over the past two decades."2

The 1995 Minnesota Student Survey found that:

54% of 12th grade girls and 55% of 12 grade boys reported being sexually active;
3,026 students aged 17 and younger became pregnant.

According to 1996 data from the Minnesota Department of Health, 15-19 year old Minnesotans have

2,264 cases of chlamydia, which accounts for 40% of all chlamydia cases
801 cases of gonorrhea, which accounts for 30% of all gonorrhea cases
3 cases of syphillis, which accounts for 6% of all cases of syphillis.

Clearly, the health risks to adolescents are many, and they are severe.

The role of parental involvement
Research has shown that most adolescents do discuss their use of reproductive health services with their parents and even more adolescents discuss an unplanned pregnancy with their parents. Related research has also shown that mandatory parental consent laws are unlikely to convince adolescents who would not otherwise discuss their health concerns with their parents to do so, and that "rather than promoting parental involvement, mandatory notification laws appear to have the unintended effects of increasing health risks to the adolescent." Considering the high rate of sexually active minors, it is only logical that decreasing minors’ access to reproductive health care will have disastrous repercussions on their health and well-being by causing an increase in the rate of unplanned teen pregnancies and the prevalence of serious if not lethal sexually transmitted infections.

How adolescents’ health needs may be best served
As stated by the American Medical Association, "ultimately, the health risks to adolescents are so impelling that legal barriers and deference to parental involvement should not stand in the way of needed care." Currently, the Minnesota Statute states that the professional may inform the parent or legal guardian of the minor patient of any treatment given or needed where, in the judgment of the professional, failure to inform the parent or guardian would seriously jeopardize the health of the minor patient. In addition, the Minnesota Medical Association has passed a resolution in support of this Minnesota Statute, determining that "the interests of adolescent patients are best served by maintaining the confidentiality protections in current law and [drawing] attention to the safeguard in the law that allows a physician to override the confidentiality protection if he or she decides that it is in the best interest of the minor."