Duty of Care– Exemptions for Minors

Most medical professionals and institutions do their best to provide the minimum Duty of Care necessary, especially when dealing with children and teens. Although it might pay well, medicine involves many years of study, and most medical professionals possess altruistic qualities. 

There are times, however, when exemptions to providing the best care exist. These generally revolve around religious exemptions. Adults are well within their rights to refuse recommended care. With minors, this becomes more complex. 

While the parents or guardians of some youngsters might go to an Emergency Room or physician and request treatment for their offspring, those with religious standards that ban certain procedures might refuse recommended care. 

This usually involves certain types of medications, blood transfusions, etc. This becomes a real quandary for a physician, as the welfare of the child must come first. If the refusal of some treatments can really harm a youngster or even lead to death, the role of a physician changes. 

Parents might become enraged at the physician and even more upset when a medical professional follows the Duty of Care by reporting the exemption/refusal of care to social service agencies. 

This is when HoeyLegal of Chester County should be consulted by any physician who must report an incident. Loss of licensing and civil penalties might ensue, so mandating reporting needs professional experience in medical malpractice claims when the physician may face a lawsuit for reporting these types of incidents. 

What Duty of Care Do Physicians Follow? 

The most basic Duty of Care is what a reasonable individual would consider the bare minimum set out by the AMA (American Medical Association). This is considered a moral, ethical, and unbreakable contract by physicians. 

When a physician does not adhere to these principles, a lawsuit can be filed, and a physician may have their license revoked or suspended. This is why many physicians typically struggle with exemptions while performing medical procedures or treating patients under the age of majority.

Physicians should protect the minor dependent but also themselves, and as the top medical malpractice attorney in Chester County, HoeyLegal is always happy to educate physicians on their rights and, of course, to assist in their defense if a lawsuit ensues. 

The Course of Action for Physicians in Exemptions

A physician’s role changes at this point in the Duty of Care. When a minor’s parent or guardian refuses some treatments, the effects of refusal must be determined if possible. Physicians use the following judgment and guidelines:

1.   Will the refusal cause serious harm or even death? 

This is never a situation physicians relish, but if the refusal of certain medications or treatments is determined not to effectively cause irreparable harm, a physician will generally comply, as exemptions exist in almost all states in the US. 

Vaccinations are usually required for school attendance, and physicals may be required for participation in sports and some activitiesPhysicians will generally point this out, but homeschooling can be done. How much harm will occur without treatment must be pinpointed. 

2.   The shift in defining the Duty of Care—mandated reporting

On the other side of the coin, with serious injuries or disease, there is a shift in the Duty of Care of a physician. If dire consequences result from the refusal of a parent or guardian to provide the necessary medical intervention, the physician must immediately report this to social services. 

Mandated reporting of incidents like this must be made to the Department of Human Services, as all physicians and medical personnel are Mandated Reporters. A physician’s lack or delay of reporting will breach their Duty of Care at this point. 

Physicians must be timely in reporting and not hesitant at all in reporting these issues, or can be held negligibly liable themselves. A refusal of treatment of a minor can be considered child abuse, and a physician must take this as seriously as if they were treating the minor to full capacity. 

3.   Will the refusal of care cause psychological harm? 

The shift in the Duty of Care by exemption also encompasses the psychological welfare of a child. If a child patient presents with untreated psychological problems, a physician must also report this. 

Many psychological problems are no fault of a parent or guardian, but treatment must be given. In addition, some psychological presentations can result from the abuse of a child. Mental, physical, and emotional abuse can also be deemed abuse. 

Physicians must be very alert for all sorts of symptoms when exemptions to care are claimed in the case of any minor. 

Summary—Duty of Care—Exemptions in Minors

Every parent and guardian has the right to refuse care for a minor. Physicians can feel torn when faced with these types of situations. 

Exemptions of care can put physicians in a real possibility of a lawsuit if a minor suffers undue injury or death. Parents who request an exemption also may be subject to civil or even criminal charges if a minor suffers horrendous injury or even death. 

To be on the safe side to prevent a lawsuit against them and also to prevent injury to minors, many physicians will contact social services to effectively log the details and look into possible child abuse. 

Failure to report suspected abuse can lead to civil and even criminal charges against a physician. Of course, this only applies if the report of possible abuse was done in good faith.

When a physician fails to report any oddity in the parent/child relationship, and an exemption of care exists, a physician has not fulfilled their fiduciary duty.   

Christian J. Hoey provides a free evaluation and welcomes all questions on this sensitive subject by either the parent of a minor or a physician worried about the possibility of a lawsuit. 

Fill out the form on the HoeyLegal website if in doubt about the patient’s rights or physician’s duties, or call: 610-647-5151 or 888-GO-HOEY1

For more information on all our law services, visit us at HoeyLegal.com or call us at (610) 647-5151.