Post Authored by Laura Wibberley

In Illinois, the general rule is that minors, individuals under the age of 18, cannot consent to receive medical treatment,[1] and that consent must be obtained by a parent or guardian. This includes medical services rendered by licensed physicians, chiropractors, registered nurses, or physician assistants.

However, the recent nationwide trend has been to expand the rights of minors in the area of healthcare. The theory is that many minors might not obtain important health services if parents are required to be involved. Yet, this theory is still balanced with the belief that despite the social reforms, minors are still not fully able to make mature and rational decisions involving their health. Attempting to walk the line, Illinois grants minors the ability to consent to healthcare services only in certain circumstances. Certain exceptions apply based on the status of the minor; for example, if the minor is legally married, pregnant, a parent, or is emancipated.

If a minor qualifies for one of these statutory exceptions, he/she will be deemed to have the same powers and obligations as that of a person of legal age. Thus, the minor will be able to legally consent to receive and obtain medical services and treatment regardless of the type of care they receive.

Aside from the exceptions pertaining to the status of the minor, there are also exceptions in Illinois for the types of health care services requested. For example, if the minor’s life is in danger, emergency services can be provided without consent of a parent.[2] Illinois law provides that parental consent is not necessary if, in the opinion of the provider, obtaining consent is “not reasonably feasible under the circumstances without adversely affecting the condition of the minor’s health.[3]” Hence, the situation is emergent and the services to the minor are life-saving.

Further, Illinois law provides exceptions for more sensitive medical services. This can include medical services of counseling, diagnoses, and treatment of a minor who is victim of sexual assault.[4] There are also exceptions that apply for minors in various other unique circumstances involving, abortion, contraception, alcohol abuse, and mental health.[5] The belief is that with these more sensitive health related issues, minors might hesitate to seek medical treatment at all, because a parent must be notified and involved. However, providers should take caution as it may become a bit tricky when a minor seeks care for multiple health concerns which implicate various statutes.

In the event a minor relays information to implicate a statutory exception, a good practice for providers would be to document details as to the statements made by the minor and all actions taken by the provider to verify the information. Further, providers should contact Risk Management to ensure that all applicable laws and hospital policies are being correctly followed. Importantly, health care professionals should take caution in order to ensure the minor truly understands the risk and benefits of the services or procedure rendered. This is the cornerstone of consent issues. Details of the conversation and consent should also be thoroughly documented into the medical record. We can expect to see additional developments in this area as the social reforms involving minors and healthcare continue to evolve.

[1] See Consent by Minors to Health Care Services Act, 410 ILCS 210, et seq. (eff. January 1, 2018).

[2] 410 ILCS 210/3(a)

[3] 410 ILCS 210/3(a).

[4] 410 ILCS 210/3(b).

[5] Id. See also 410 ILCS 210/4 The details of these exceptions are outside the scope of this article.

Laura Wibberley was recently admitted to practice law in the state of Illinois. She concentrates her practice in the areas of medical malpractice and health care defense. Laura received her J.D. from The John Marshall Law School in 2017, where she graduated Valedictorian and summa cum laude.  While in law school, Laura was a student publications editor of the John Marshall Law Review and an associate justice board member of the Moot Court Honor Society. She received the CALI award in Evidence, Civil Procedure, and Contracts. She previously externed with The Honorable Robert E. Gordon of the First District Appellate Court of Illinois where she assisted with the research and drafting of several published opinions. Prior to law school, Laura worked as a senior paralegal for the Chicago Transit Authority in the civil litigation division where she actively participated in over twenty jury trials.