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Medical Rights

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Consent and Confidentiality

If you are under 19 years old, you can agree to your own medical care. This is called giving consent. You can consent to your own medical care as long as you are “capable”. The law considers you capable if you understand the following:

  • The need for a medical treatment
  • What the treatment involves
  • The benefits and risks if you get or don’t get the treatment

If the doctor or health care provider explains these things and decides that you understand them and the health care is in your best interest, he or she can treat you without permission from your parents or guardian. You might have to sign a consent form.

You can normally get medical treatment without your parents’ or guardian’s knowledge or consent for things like:

  • Birth control
  • Abortion
  • Mental health problems
  • Sexually transmitted diseases
  • Alcohol and drug addiction problems

Will my parents find out?

A doctor or health care provider can’t talk with your parents or guardian about your medical care unless you agree (but there are exceptions, see below). If you are considered capable of making your own medical decisions, then you have a right to doctor-patient confidentiality. That means the information is private between you and the doctor. Your health practitioner should not give out any information about you to anyone, including your parents.

If your health practitioner does want to tell someone about your medical condition, they should ask you to sign a “consent” form that states exactly what information you are agreeing to share and who they are allowed to share it with. It’s a good idea to check with a health practitioner first to make sure that they will respect your confidentiality rights.

Exceptions to confidentiality

In some cases, parents may be able to get information about your medical care. If there is good reason to believe that you might harm yourself or others, or if there is reportable abuse (physical, sexual or emotional), then the information may not stay private. In such cases, you should be told why your information won’t be kept private and who it will be shared with. Some doctors will insist on telling a parent or guardian if they treat someone under 19. If you want your doctor to keep your medical information confidential it’s important to tell this to the doctor.

Medical emergencies

Your consent (agreement) to being treated in a medical emergency may not be needed — it depends on the situation. If your life or health is seriously threatened and it appears you aren’t capable of making health care decisions, health care providers may be able to treat you without consent and do whatever is necessary to try and save your life or health.

Hospitalization for psychiatric treatment

A young person under 16 can be hospitalized against their will for psychiatric treatment in one of two ways: if a parent or guardian requests it and a doctor then decides that the child has a mental disorder, or if the child is admitted as an involuntary patient under the Mental Health Act.

In both cases, you have the right to be told why you’ve been admitted and the right to contact a lawyer immediately. If you want to leave but your doctor won’t let you, you can ask for a hearing by a review panel or court. A child 16 or older can only be admitted against their will for psychiatric treatment as an involuntary patient.