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Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology Canada. Volume 23, Number 4 (2001), p. 343-345.


adolescents; capacity to consent; confidentiality; ethics; health care providers; law; married minor; minor patients; parental consent; parental knowledge


Health care providers who treat adolescents may also be required to diagnose and treat the reproductive health conditions of minor patients and to facilitate health prevention measures, including contraception and testing for sexually transmitted diseases. Teens who do not want their parents to know about their sexual behaviour may consult a health care provider for reproductive or sexual health care services and treatment without parental knowledge or consent. This may present legal and ethical dilemmas for health care providers. Common law recognizes that adolescents under the legal age of majority who are sufficiently mature (the mature minor) may have the capacity to consent to health care services with the same independence as adults. Such capacity to consent needs to be determined on an individual basis. Where there is disagreement between a mature minor and her parent(s) about a medical procedure or treatment, the wishes of the adolescent should prevail. Under law, a married minor is usually treated as having attained majority status, however, fertility services cannot ethically be denied if the unmarried adolescent is found capable and they are required medical services for that individual. Parents or legal guardians generally have the legal authority and responsibility to act as surrogate decision makers for adolescents found incapable of making their own health care decisions. Although confidentiality is essential, there are some exceptions to absolute confidentiality.


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