Ask Your Mum: US State Proposes Teen Medical Care Bill

Would you feel happier if a doctor needed your written approval before providing your teenager with treatment, diagnoses or even counselling for a mental health or substance abuse problem? In North Carolina, this may soon be a reality, as the House Bill 693, which could be heard on Wednesday, would also require parental approval for contraception, pregnancy care and testing for sexually transmitted diseases. But would the legislation serve to help or harm teen and family wellness?

According to Sponsor Rep. Chris Whitmire, R-Transylvania, the bill ‘strengthens parental rights in their determination of what’s appropriate in terms of their child’s medical needs.’ He said that, if a minor needs mental health, substance abuse, STD or contraceptive care, ‘it reflects a risky behaviour that goes down a primrose path that yields these outcomes.’ He added, ‘We make (teens) wait till they’re 18 to buy cigarettes, 21 to buy alcohol. With the particular items that are very serious, that threaten their health, they certainly need a parental figure.’

Multiple groups of doctors have come out in opposition of the proposal. Speaking for the paediatricians, Dr. John Rusher argued that, if the bill passes, teenagers’ wellbeing would be at risk due to a reluctance to seek life-saving help. ‘You’re going to eliminate a certain subsection of patients with either substance abuse or who have been subject to child abuse, physical abuse or even emotional disturbance that are not going to be able to come seek care because they can’t do it in confidence,’ he warned.

Community physician Dr. Neva Bartholomew added, ‘I have had numerous instances where teenagers have come to me in confidence to discuss concerns they have about fears of pregnancy, sexually transmitted infection, HIV. I’ve been able to counsel them because I’m able to assure them that they have my confidentiality. If they think that we are going to tell their parents about everything they come to talk to us about, they are not going to tell us what is going on, and they are not going to come in.’

However, Tami Fitzgerald, with the N.C. Values Coalition, called the bill ‘a commonsense bill that puts control back in the hands of the parents, where it belongs.’ She noted, ‘There is something insanely wrong about physicians’ associations coming into this building and asserting that their judgment should be substituted for the judgment of a child’s parents.’ Jere Royall with the North Carolina Family Policy Council, commented, ‘Sexually transmitted diseases, abuse of controlled substances or alcohol, mental illness or pregnancy are critical, sensitive and necessary areas for parents to be aware of and involved in.’

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