This is a word which has become more and more important in the last few decades. If you give consent you are agreeing to the act or procedure. Of course in medicine we talk not just about consent but about informed consent.
I wrote a post about informed consent in 2019: https://www.homeopathbarbara.nz/informed-consent/
What that post didn’t go into was parental consent.
It has been the general view in New Zealand that age 16 is the age of consent. You can have sex at age 16, but you cannot get married until age 18 without your parents consent. You can leave school at 16 and start full time work. You can consent to or refuse medical treatment independently. An exception is made for contraceptive treatment for children under 16, where they can consent without parental knowledge.
While 16 is the age specified in the Care of Children Act 2004 for medical procedures, the Ministry of Health also have a guideline called Consent in Child and Youth Health. It’s a 74 page document, but to summarise children and young people should be informed and involved in their healthcare, and individuals be able to have body integrity and autonomy. While it does not specify an age and acknowledges a legal lack of clarity, it talks about their competency to understand, information should be age appropriate, there needs to be respect and their best interest must be the primary consideration.
Some of my favourite parts: “Consent is not a single act. It is a process involving the individual (and/or their representative if the patient does not have the capacity to consent) being appropriately informed and willing and able to agree to what is being suggested without coercion. It also includes the right to be honestly and openly informed about one’s personal health matters. The right to agree to treatment carries with it the right to refuse treatment.” Page 3.
“Regardless of age, an individual must be able to understand:
• that they have a choice (freedom from coercion)
• why they are being offered the ‘treatment’
• what is involved in what they are being offered
• what the probable benefits, risks, side effects, failure rates and alternatives are.” Pages 3-4.
The link to the full document here: https://www.moh.govt.nz/notebook/nbbooks.nsf/0/F4F8A3899527E75B4C25670B0005C7B0/$file/consent-in-child-and-youth-health.pdf
This is particularly topical considering the Ministry of Health now is advertising Covid vaccinations for 12-15 year olds and stating that they can give consent even without their parent or guardian’s permission.
Can teenagers give consent though? Nathan Wallis has been educating for a number of years about the brain, and he describes it that the teenage brain “shuts for renovations” for approximately 3 years and this hits around age 13.
It is quite widely accepted that adolescent brains work differently to adult brains, and as such adolescents are more likely to act impulsively, and less likely to think through the consequences of their actions.
I would expect this to mean that adolescents need more time, so should not be expected to make a decision on the spot. But they are also more likely to be subject to peer pressure, and possibly also following the advice of someone in a position of authority because of that position without considering alternatives.
This post is not to tell you what to do or not to do around these issues. I firmly believe that you should look at both sides of any issue- in this case not just government advice but also consider alternative sources such as Voices for Freedom or on Facebook the Health Forum NZ. It is also important to look at the risks of the disease and the risks of vaccination, and consider that these risks may be different for different age groups.
In the case of making decisions that involve teenagers health and wellbeing though, make sure that you discuss what your reasons are for any decision, and make a plan for what to do if they do get directly approached. While all our informed consent documents state there should be no coercion, in practice this does not always happen, and when there is other pressure from friends, teachers, workplaces, and media it may be more coercion than informed consent.
Photo credit: Greyerbaby on Pixabay