Medical consent is a foundational principle in healthcare that ensures patients have the right to determine what happens to their bodies. For adults, this process is relatively straightforward. However, when it comes to minor children, the waters get a bit murky.

With increasing medical procedures for minors and varying situations arising, many are confronted with questions regarding when and how consent should be obtained. Especially as we head into the busier periods of the year, medical professionals are more likely to encounter such cases.

The basics of consent for minors

At the core of all matters involving minors is the Children's Act (Act 38 of 2005). This act emphasises the principle of "the best interests of the minor child." Essentially, this means that whatever decision is made, it must prioritise the child's welfare over everything else.

Generally, the person or people holding parental rights are responsible for giving consent. These rights encompass care, contact, maintenance, and guardianship. In cases of divorce, the specific rights of each parent are usually defined in the divorce settlement or order. However, for most medical procedures, consent from just one parent is sufficient, provided the procedure is in the child's best interest.

Can a hospital treat a minor without parental consent?

Yes, but only in specific circumstances. If a medical treatment is vital to save a child's life or if waiting for consent would cause harm to the child, hospitals have certain rights. For instance, a child aged 12 and above with adequate maturity can consent to their own treatment if they comprehend the implications. However, for younger children or those deemed immature, the caregiver or guardian's consent is needed. In urgent situations, the hospital's superintendent or person-in-charge can give consent for a procedure that's essential for the child's well-being.

In unique situations, even the Minister or the High Court can step in to provide consent, particularly if it's believed that the child or caregiver is unreasonably withholding it.

Medical consent is a crucial area in healthcare, ensuring the rights and best interests of minors are always protected. It's essential for everyone to be informed and understand the rules to safeguard our children's health and well-being.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.