The right of minors to confidentiality and informed consent

J Child Neurol. 2004 Feb;19(2):145-8. doi: 10.1177/08830738040190021101.


Doctor-patient confidentiality is a precept of adolescent medicine. In general, physicians honor the privacy of adolescents unless there is evidence that the youngster is engaging in dangerous activities. An otherwise healthy 16 year old was referred for headache evaluation. During the portion of the interview conducted outside the presence of his mother, the patient revealed using marijuana and cocaine regularly and LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide), hallucinogenic mushrooms, and "Ecstasy" (3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine) occasionally. Given this information, and as allowed by North Carolina's General Statutes, the patient was offered confidential treatment for illegal substance abuse; he declined the offer. He also turned down the request to forgo his right to privacy so that his parents could be made aware of his addiction. As a result of the patient's drug use and disregard of its consequences, it was determined that notification of a parent was essential to his life or health; thus, confidentiality was breached. Although substance abuse is a behavior that threatens the abuser's health and life, state and federal laws vary regarding the rights of minors to confidential evaluation and treatment. For this article, laws that govern minors' rights to consent to confidential treatment for illegal substance abuse were reviewed. The aforementioned case is used as a catalyst for discussion.

Publication types

  • Case Reports

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Confidentiality*
  • Disclosure
  • Humans
  • Informed Consent*
  • Male
  • North Carolina
  • Patient Rights / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Substance-Related Disorders / therapy