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Attorney Van O'Steen

Documents Insure Medical Care for Children in Parents' Absence

Van O'Steen

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I spoke recently with a doctor who graduated from a highly respected medical school in the upper Midwest. The discussion involved the procedure used at the university's hospital for treating ill and injured children when their parents were not available to consent to treatment.

The law requires parental consent in most cases before medical care can be given to a minor. The only common exception is for life-threatening situations and other very serious injuries.

If parental consent was unavailable, the policy at this doctor's university hospital was to withhold treatment for minors unless their conditions were life-threatening. The unfortunate effect of this policy, he said, was that a child brought to the hospital in a non-life threatening condition could not be treated until the condition deteriorated to life-threatening.

There are valid reasons for the consent requirement. Some people have religious objections to certain types of medical treatment, and most parents want some role in the medical decisions affecting their children. No one, however, should want unnecessary delays in important medical treatment. Aside from the obvious discomfort to a child, delays may increase the risk of serious complications.

In Arizona, anyone under 18 years of age is a minor. Minors are legally incapable of consenting to medical treatment. Generally, their parents or legal guardians may do this for them.

There is an easy solution to this problem. Arizona law allows parents to appoint other adults to consent to medical care for their children in the parents' absence. A simple medical power-of-attorney can be used to give this authorization. Any number of other adults can be designated to make medical treatment decisions when the parents are unavailable.

Special power-of-attorney forms should be used for this purpose. The much broader general power-of-attorney form is not appropriate for such a narrow objective.

Special power-of-attorney forms are available at most office supply stores in Arizona. Some doctors and hospitals also distribute these forms, designed specifically for medical treatment consents for minors, including cases of serious injuries.  In addition, some bookstores sell packets containing instructions and forms specifically designed to remedy this problem.