Teens & Privacy

MinorsMinors, teens under the age of 18, have a right to confidential (private) medical services for preventing pregnancy and preventing sexually transmitted infections.

What is “minor consent law” in Minnesota? In Minnesota a minor (under 18 years old) has the right to privacy for health care services to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.

A minor’s right to privacy for medical and mental health services are spelled out in minor consent law:

  1. Teens under 18 may give their own consent, or their own permission, for certain medical and mental health services to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections or to diagnose and treat problems with drugs and alcohol. That means that you don’t need your parents’ permission to go to a clinic to get birth control, get a pregnancy test, get help for alcohol or drugs, or find out if you have a sexually transmitted infection. Other types of medical and mental health services require your parent’s permission. Some teens under 18 are allowed to give their own consent for all types of medical and mental health service if they are considered by law to be ‘mature’ or ’emancipated’ minor. A teen is a ’mature’ or an “emancipated minor” if they fit into one of the three categories below:
    1. Lives separatatly and apart from a parent or guardian (with or without permission, regardless of duration) and who is managing her or his own financial affairs.
    2. Has married.
    3. Has given birth to a child.

‘Mature’ or emancipated minors don’t need anyone’s permission to receive medical and mental health services. Their records are confidential. No one can see their records without their written permission. For more information on Minnesota laws see RESOURCES below.

Understand and protect your right to privacy:

Clinic and health care provider may apply the minor consent law differently. Be sure you understand your clinic’s policies about protecting your confidentiality (privacy) before asking for services. If you are using your parent’s insurance to pay for services, be sure to ask if the insurance company will protect your privacy and confidentiality or will they send any information to your parents about the services or bill.

Be aware, even if your privacy is guaranteed by law, your doctor, nurse practitioner and nurse have a responsibility to inform a parent or guardian in cases where the minor might be in danger or might be harmed. This means that a minor’s doctor can contact their parent or guardian without permission if they think keeping the parent out of the matter could actually put the minor in danger or make things worse.

What services are covered by the minor consent law?

Services covered by minor consent are confidential health services. These include:

  • Pregnancy-related care – Pregnancy testing, prenatal care, labor and delivery services and options counseling;
  • Contraceptive care – Getting birth control;
  • Alcohol and other drug abuse – Evaluation for alcohol and other drug abuse, counseling, treatment and detox; and
  • Emergency care – When requiring a parent’s consent would delay treatment and put the minor’s life or health at risk;Sexually Transmitted Disease (STD) – Testing, treatment, counseling and support for STDs (STIs);
  • Inpatient mental health services – A minor 16 years or older may admit herself or himself to a treatment facility for mental health services.

Who are “Emancipated” or “Mature” Minors?
“Emancipated” and “mature” minors can give legal consent for any type of medical or mental health service. A teen is an “emancipated minor” if they fit any one of these three categories:

  1. Minor living separate and apart from parents of guardian (with or without permission, regardless of duration) who is managing her or his own financial affairs.
  2. Minor who has married.
  3. Minor who has given birth to a child.

A teen is considered a “mature or emancipated minor” if he or she is judged by a medical or mental health provider as being capable of understanding the nature of the problem and treatment options. This understanding is called ‘informed consent’.

Why is There Such a Law?

We know from research that teens may not get the health care they need without a guarantee of confidentiality. A study asked teens if they would get help for depression if their parents were notified. Forty five percent (45%) of those teens said they would not. When asked if they would get birth control, treatment for sexually transmitted diseases or treatment for drug use if their parents were informed, eighty percent (80%) of these teens said they would not if their parents would be notified (Marks A, Malizio J, Hoch J, et al. Assessment of health needs and willingness to utilize health care resources of adolescents in a suburban population. Journal of Pediatrics 1983; 102:456-450).

A more recent nationwide study of 6,748 girls and boys in grades five through twelve found that thirty-six percent (36%) sometimes did not get medical care when they needed it because they did not want to tell their parents about the problem (Commonwealth Fund. Survey of the Health of Adolescent Girls 1997).

Why do some teens not want their parent or guardian involved? Some feel their parents or guardians may not be supportive. Some times teens are looking for help because their parents are actually creating some of their problems. For most teens, however, it is part of growing up and taking on more responsibility. Most caring parents find it hard to give up taking care of their children. Most teens want their parents to know that they are willing and capable of taking on decisions for their health care. For them, seeking confidential services is a wise and responsible decision.

Who Supports Minor Consent Law?

Many teens and their families as well as most physicians strongly support teens having confidential health services. Hennepin Medical Society, the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, American College of Physicians and the American Public Health Association all support providing confidential health services for adolescents.

Do our Lawmakers Support Minor Consent Law?

Most current Minnesota lawmakers (state representatives and senators) agree with those who enacted the law in 1971. Lawmakers support privacy and confidentiality for minors’ health care for the same reasons many teens, families and physicians do. In 2003 there was an attempt to change the law to allow parents to have access to confidential records. This time the attempt to change minor’s confidentially was defeated, but further attempts to take away minor’s consent might be around the corner

Some adolescent health advocates are concerned there may be other attempts to change the minor consent law in spite of widespread support from research, parents, most lawmakers, the voting public and teens.

You can express your concern and ideas about minor consent law by contacting your legislators. For more information contact Teen Age Medical Services, The Annex or West Suburban Teen Clinic or Minnesota. For help in finding out how to contact your legislator contact Minnesota AIDS Project www.mnaidsproject.org at 612-341-2060.

What About Abortion?

Abortion is not included in the minor consent law. It is possible to have an abortion without a parent or guardian’s permission by getting a judge to declare that a minor is “emancipated” or mature. This is called a “court by-pass” when used by a minor to get a confidential abortion. A minor choosing an abortion without permission must first get the court by-pass. This means the court will grant permission to have the abortion. Abortion Clinics have answers to the many questions someone might have and will help the minor get the court’s permission for the abortion.

TEENS: What if I Want to Inform my Parents?

Some teens want to involve their parents or guardians in such important decisions such as preventing pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections or getting an abortion. Sometimes it is hard to begin the conversation. There are several ways you can get help with the conversation. You can check out “Talking with my family about sexuality”. Health Educators, nurses and doctors at West Suburban Teen Clinic, Teen Age Medical Services and The Annex can also be very helpful. Or you can email a question to “Got Questions” We encourage you to talk with your parents about these topics. They may be relieved you brought it up!

It’s not unusual for teens to want their parent or guardians to know more about their health care services and to even look at their medical records. Teen Age Medical Services, The Annex and West Suburban Teen Clinc are happy to help you with that. In order for your parent or guardian to view your confidential records, you must sign a “Release of Information Form” giving your clinic and providers permission for your parents to view your records.

ADULTS: What if I Want to Find Out if my Child is Receiving Such Services?

Minor consent law protects the confidentiality of your child’s records for reproductive, and chemical health. You may call a clinic, hospital or alcohol or other drug treatment center to find out about their services. But you may not have information or access to records without your child’s written permission. In those situations protected by the minor consent law, your teen has the right to consent to their own services. Their privacy is protected in the same way privacy is protected for you and all adults.

You do, however, have a responsibility to discuss issues related to sexuality and chemical use with your children. Start that discussion by talking about your values and expectations. It may not be easy to begin that conversation, particularly if you’ve never talked about sex or alcohol and other drugs before this. But it is never too late to start. For help with getting started see “Talking with your family about sexuality” on this website. Your teen may be relieved you brought it up!

Talking about sexuality or drugs won’t “give them permission to fool around,” but instead will give you an opportunity to communicate your hopes for your children’s healthy future. Even when communication is open and honest, however, many adolescents still express a desire for privacy when it comes to getting sexual or chemical health services.

RESOURCES

For more information on minor consent and Minnesota Statutes §144.341-347 at the Minnesota Statutes and Session Laws web site (www.leg.state.mn.us/leg/statutes.htm).