Leading medical groups call for respect for minors’ right to consent to medical care
Washington, DC – Today, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the American Medical Association (AMA), the Washington, DC Chapter of the AAP, the Medical Society of the District of Columbia, and the Society of Adolescent Health and Medicine have filed a case brief friend (PDF) in support of the District of Columbia’s Minor Consent Act, a public health law protecting minors’ access to medical care. The groups’ brief was filed by Democracy Forward in one of two separate lawsuits filed in federal court last month to challenge the law. The brief urges the court to dismiss the challenge.
DC’s Minor Consent Act allows minors who are able to give informed consent to obtain vaccines if they wish under specific circumstances. The standard of care for physicians is to involve parents in medical decisions for their minor children, including vaccines. But sometimes parental involvement is impossible, impractical, or even harmful. The thesis highlights situations in which â[m]Parents can be effectively independent, as when married, in the military, or unaccompanied and homeless. The guardian of a minor may not be able to participate in the care of a minor due to work, illness or other problems at home.
Minors may also have reason to believe that a parent would punish them if they wanted to be vaccinated or if they sought other medical treatment such as mental health services. When such situations arise, the brief argues that minors should be able to access potentially life-saving care.
âThe current wave of Delta variants of COVID-19 is an alarming reminder that vaccines save lives and protect communities, as the majority of people seriously ill and dying from the virus are currently unvaccinated,â the president said. ‘AAP, Lee Savio Beers, MD, FAAP. âWe saw almost double the number of children contracting the virus last week compared to the week before, and we have a safe vaccine available for children 12 and older. I live and practice pediatric medicine in Washington DC, and am grateful that its Minor Consent Act covers the rare instances when a minor child seeks a life-saving vaccine. “
The growing threat of vaccine reluctance has led to a sharp drop in vaccination rates in the United States. Recent outbreaks have occurred in measles and pertussis, both mainly affecting unvaccinated children. Allowing minors who are able to give informed consent to obtain vaccines if they wish is an important step towards reversing these trends.
âPhysicians are well able to assess whether a minor is mature enough to understand and consent to medically appropriate vaccinations,â said WADA President Gerald Harmon, MD. âThe medical community, federal and state laws have long recognized that minors may be able to give informed consent for other health services without parental consent. In order to maximize immunization opportunities for children, legislative policies should be encouraged and maintained that allow mature minors to give informed consent for immunizations recommended by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices.
The brief explains that the minor consent law is fully consistent with best medical practice, public health, constitutional requirements, and federal law. “DC’s Minor Consent Act is important in ensuring access to life-saving health care and is compliant with the law and informed by best medical practice and public health guidance,” said the president and chief of Democracy Forward executive Skye Perryman. “We are proud to represent these leading medical groups in urging the court to dismiss a flawed challenge to DC’s minor consent law.” The amicus case was taken to U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on August 6, 2021.