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Minors' Rights to Consent to Medical Care

Angela R. Holder, LLM
JAMA. 1987;257(24):3400-3402. doi:10.1001/jama.1987.03390240106033.
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A CONTINUING issue in the everyday practice of pediatrics is the boundary of the right of a specific child or adolescent to make decisions about his or her own health care.1-5

Since at least the mid-seventh century in England, a minor, defined as anyone under 21 years of age, was a chattel of his or her father.6 A father had the right to sue a physician who treated his son or daughter without his permission, even if the treatment had been perfectly appropriate, because such an intervention contravened the father's right to control the child.

THE PREADOLESCENT CHILD  That is still the rule with a young child in a nonacute situation. If a 3-year-old is visiting his grandmother, and she brings him to a plastic surgeon to remove a birthmark the parents had decided to leave alone, the plastic surgeon is at substantial risk of suit from the


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