Question: I recently discovered that my 15 year old daughter was on the Pill. She told me that our family doctor prescribed it to her. Are doctors allowed to do this, treat minors without a parent's consent?
Some states (SA, NSW, ACT) have specific legislation relating to the medical treatment of a person under the age of 18. In Queensland there is no specific legislation and so the common law applies. The common law recognises that a child may have the capacity to consent to their own medical treatment, without their parent's knowledge or consent. This common law position relates to a 1986 English House of Lords judgement, Gillick v West Norfolk and Wisbech Area Health Authority. In this case the Court determined that a child could consent to their own medical treatment if they had sufficient intelligence and understanding to give consent to the proposed medical treatment. A person is referred to as being 'Gillick competent' or a 'mature minor'.
Ideally when a GP sees a patient who is under the age of 18 without a parent they will always discuss the possibility that the parent is informed and/or involved. If the patient, however, refuses to have their parent involved the GP will make a decision based on a number of factors.
They will consider the patient's overall maturity, their degree of autonomy and their capacity to make decisions in other aspects of their life. They will evaluate whether the patient is able to weigh up options/alternatives and understand their consequences (both positive and negative). Overall, the GP needs to asses whether the patient is capable of fully understanding what the treatment involves in order to consent to it.
In your daughter's situation the GP would have also considered who the sexual partner was and their age; how likely your daughter would be to begin or continue to have sexual intercourse without the contraception and the risks to her physical and mental health if she didn't receive the contraception.
Young people are often reluctant to seek health care, fearing their information will not be kept confidential. While it may make parents uneasy at times, allowing young people access to medical advice and treatment without their parents' consent and/or knowledge can be of great benefit to the young person's health, which should be the primary concern.
Feel reassured that your daughter sought medical treatment from your family GP. They know her medical history as well as her family history and so are in the best position to provide her with ongoing medical care. As the family GP, they are obviously someone that you feel is reliable and competent.
Use this unexpected discovery as an opportunity to talk to your daughter about issues around sex. Ensure that she does understand how the Pill works and that its effectiveness depends on it being taken correctly. Also discuss with her the possibility of sexually transmitted infections (STIs). While the Pill will provide protection from an unplanned pregnancy it will not protect her from STIs.
Last Updated: December 2013.
©Women's Health Queensland Wide Inc. This article was reviewed by the Women's Health editorial commitee. It was published in Health Journey 2013 Issue 4.