Ohio law considers people who are 18 years of age or older to be capable of giving valid, legally enforceable consent to receive medical treatment. Generally, people under age 18 (minors) must have the consent of a parent or guardian before receiving medical care. However, there are several exceptions to this general rule. For example, emancipated minors and “mature minors” can give consent, and there are also certain statutory exceptions. Also, a minor who understands the risk and benefits of proposed care can consent to: emergency healthcare, limited outpatient mental health care, alcohol and drug abuse treatment, testing for HIV/AIDS, and some family planning services.
Q: What are “mature minors” and “emancipated minors”?
A: A “mature minor” is someone over age 15 who can show a health care provider that he or she has enough maturity and understanding to make medical care and treatment decisions without parental consent. On a case-by-case basis, the health care provider uses the same criteria that would be used to determine if an adult is capable of making medical decisions. If the minor is found capable of consenting, the health care provider must give the minor the same informed consent an adult would receive.
Ohio law does not specifically define “emancipated minor.” However, according to the “common” law that comes from cases decided by judges, a minor who is no longer under the protection and control of parents or guardian is considered emancipated. An emancipated minor would generally include someone under age 18 who is married, is in the armed forces, and is living away from the parent’s home. In Ohio, teens who support themselves financially are not legally considered emancipated. An emancipated minor usually is considered capable of making medical treatment decisions.
Q: What are the “statutory exceptions” that allow a minor to give consent for medical treatment?
A: Without regard to decision-making capacity, a minor may consent:
• to an examination for the purpose of gathering physical evidence of an alleged sexual offense such as rape;
• for the diagnosis or treatment, by a licensed physician, of any venereal disease;
• for the diagnosis or treatment, by a licensed physician, of any condition reasonably believed to be caused by drug abuse, beer or intoxicating liquor;
• to be given an HIV test for the diagnosis of AIDS or an AIDS-related condition;
• to donate blood to a nonprofit voluntary program (if at least 17 years old);
• to receive mental health treatment (if at least 14 years old) for a limited number of sessions or outpatient services, except for the use of medication;
• to receive an abortion if the minor has applied to the local juvenile court and the court finds “good cause” to bypass parental notification.
Q: What if I cannot be reached when my child needs medical help?
A: Healthcare providers generally must provide emergency medical treatment to preserve life and to prevent serious impairment to the health of any individual, including a minor. If the health care provider cannot reach you within the time available to preserve your child’s life or prevent serious impairment, the emergency takes precedence over the requirement to get your consent. If the situation is not life-threatening, however, and your child does not fit one of the exceptions listed above, the health care provider cannot legally treat your child until you, the child’s other parent or a legal guardian has given consent.
Q: Can I authorize medical treatment for my child if I know I will be away for a while?
A: Yes. If you know you are to be away, you can give permission, in writing, to another adult (such as a friend or relative) to authorize your child’s medical treatment in your absence.
Q: Must both parents give consent for our minor child to be treated?
A: No. Either you or your child’s other parent may give consent, assuming you are not divorced. If you are separated, but not yet divorced, then either parent may provide consent. If you are divorced, but both parents have legal custody (shared parenting), then either parent can sign. If you are divorced, and one parent has legal custody or is the child’s custodial or residential parent, then that parent should give consent. However, if a delay in medical care would be dangerous for your child and all reasonable attempts to reach the custodial or residential parent have failed, then the non-custodial parent can give consent.
This “Law You Can Use” legal information column was provided by the Ohio State Bar Association. It was prepared by attorney Phillip T. Glyptis of Steptoe & Johnson PLLC.