Sorry, it’s (doctor’s) parent’s orders

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As teenagers, we have control over a lot of our lives. And yet, when it comes to medical decisions, which can impact us significantly, everything still requires the approval of our parents or guardians.

Currently, if you are under the age of 18 and want to have any medical procedure, or even something as simple as routine dental care, you need to have the consent of a parent. And while this may not seem like that big of a deal, for children independent of their parents, it can pose a larger issue.

Homeless children and those not in contact with their parents can have a difficult time getting care. States do provide some exceptions, like for emergency situations, but this isn’t enough. Children may be forced to delay care—due to a lack of parental consent—until it becomes an emergency.

Some states have handled this issue well. For example, California, Texas, Alaska and several other states allow minors to make medical decisions for themselves if they are living apart from their parents and managing their own finances. However, not all states allow such exceptions. Most states do have modified rules for minors seeking contraceptives, care for sexually transmitted diseases and mental health. But these are not universal, and many states have restrictions or allow doctors to notify parents of the procedures.

Lack of privacy presents another problem to minors who may not want their parents to find out about treatments they are receiving. Children and teens may be less likely to seek contraceptives, treatments for STDs and mental health care if they believe that their parents will find out or need to give permission.

For younger children, of course, the issue becomes more complex. Parents should obviously have control over the care of young children because many medical issues are simply beyond their comprehension. The concerns of the child should never be ignored, however. In those cases, it is best for the parents to inform their children to the best of their ability about what they have decided and why.

Teenagers, on the other hand, do have the capacity to decide for themselves and should be able to. Some people may think that, as minors, they aren’t intelligent and mature enough to make informed decisions. But a high school student expected to manage academics, learn how to drive, apply to colleges and accomplish a whole slew of other tasks is probably capable of making informed medical decisions. Not to mention, these procedures and treatments are ultimately matters concerning their own bodies. They should have control over what happens to them, regardless of what parents have to say.