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NYT op-ed says parental consent laws are ethical challenge to doctors

An op-ed printed in The New York Times yesterday raised questions about the ethics of requiring doctors to advise minors to inform their parents of their medical care. #

Perri Klass, a doctor, wrote that right and wrong is not “clear-cut” when forcing parental involvement in medical cases that involve “sensitive needs [such] as contraception, pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases and mental health.” #

Klass writes * * about his experience advising a young woman to tell her parents that she had contracted a sexually transmitted infection: ”So against her better judgment, she told her parents her diagnosis. Her father’s reaction was to inform her that once she got out of the hospital, she was no longer welcome to return home.” #

He says that “juggling parental concern with an adolescent patient’s legal and ethical right to privacy opens up some tricky questions”: #

Clinics for adolescents are keenly conscious that the promise of confidential care is essential [.pdf] to gain and hold their young patients’ trust. But in those same clinics, doctors often try to convince teenagers to bring parents into the conversation. #

We warn our patients that confidentiality will be broken if there is an imminent risk of serious harm or death. But it’s not always that clear-cut. What to do with the adolescent who tells you something worrisome but not clearly over the line? Who is not crying out for help and support, but admits to sampling amphetamines, say, or sees regular cocaine use as nothing unusual? #

During this past legislative session in Florida, lawmakers successfully further restricted access to a judicial bypass to the state’s parental notification before abortion law. Most recently, two Florida legislators also introduced a federal law that would require states to uphold other states’ notification laws. #

The conversation surrounding these parental notification laws has focused mainly on privacy issues and parental rights. There has been little discussion about what effect this would have on the way a doctor practices medicine. #

The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida has said that Florida’s parental notification law endangers the health of young women. The legislation received bipartisan opposition. #

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