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Responsibilities and Duties of Parents To Child

Once a person becomes a parent, he or she has certain legal duties to the child. Parents must provide children with food, shelter, clothing, healthcare and education. Parents have a duty to protect their children from abuse and neglect. If parents do not provide a safe environment for their children, they may be held criminally liable and the child can be removed from the home.

Must parents continue to support children after they become adults?

No. Once the child is no longer a minor, the parents' legal obligations to the child are terminated.

Parents' rights over child

Just as they have certain duties, mothers and fathers also have certain rights regarding their children. Parents have the right to determine how the child will be raised, where and how the child will be educated, what religion will be followed and the type of medical treatment the child can obtain. Under some laws, parents have the right to any income earned by the child. Additionally, parents have the right to discipline their children within reason.

Service and earnings

As long as a parent is supporting a minor child, the parent has the right to the child's earnings and labor. For example, the parents of a teen-aged boy living at home have the right to require him to work on the family farm. Once the child is an adult or the parent no longer supports him, the parent loses the right to his services and earnings.

Medical Treatment

When the life of the child is threatened because of parent's decision, the state can intervene. Typically, these cases arise where the parents withhold medical treatment. Even if the parents have a religious belief that forbids certain treatment (e.g., a blood transfusion), a court has the authority to make the child a ward of the state and require the medical treatment.

Can a stepparent consent to a stepchild's medical treatment?

Yes. However, the consent is authorized only in situations where an adult blood relative (such as a grandparent) cannot be reached and the parent is not available.

Can a parent authorize a hospital to take a child off of life-sustaining medical equipment?

Yes. Laws generally allow parents to "let their child die" when the child is terminally ill. Under those circumstances, the parents do not have to consent to continued medical treatment, urgent or not. For example, a child with an inoperable brain tumor which will cause his death will not be legally forced to undergo invasive medical treatment if his parents do not wish him to have it.

SIDEBAR: Parents cannot withhold medical treatment from non-terminal children regardless of the severity of the disease, deformity or disability.

Can a parent authorize a child to donate an organ to save the life of a sibling or parent?

No. Parents are under a duty not to place their children in danger of injury. Since surgery has inherent risks, the child cannot be forced to donate an organ. However, other treatments may be authorized by the parents, such as donating blood or even bone marrow.

My 14-year-old daughter wants to donate a kidney to her brother. Can I authorize the surgery?

No. However, the court can authorize the surgery under the "substituted judgment doctrine." If the court finds that your daughter, if she was an adult, would come to the decision to donate her kidney to her brother and that she would receive great personal benefit from her act, the judge may permit the surgery.

Can parents bar a child's access to contraceptives or birth control?

In some states, a physician can determine, without the parent's consent, whether to prescribe birth control medications. Over-the-counter contraceptives can also be obtained by minors.

Can a minor seek confidential medical treatment?

Yes. In certain circumstances, a physician may not be under a legal obligation to inform parents that she is treating their minor child.

SIDEBAR: Typically, laws allow minors to consent to their own treatment without the additional consent or notification of the parents, where:

  • treatment is sought for an infectious, contagious, or communicable disease of a type that must be reported to a local health board;
  • she is pregnant and seeking medical care (other than an abortion); or
  • treatment for an addiction is being sought.

TIP: Minors on active military duty do not need parental consent for medical treatment.

TIP: Minors who have left home and are supporting themselves can authorize their own medical care if they are at least 16 or 17 years old, depending on the laws of the state.

I'm 17 years old. Can I consent to treatment for my baby?

Yes. If you are the parent of a child, and have custody of that child, you can authorize medical care and treatment for your son or daughter even if you are a minor.

I'm 14, and just found out that I'm pregnant. Can the doctor tell my parents?

Yes. Because you are a minor, the physician is not legally barred from advising your parents of the pregnancy. Although you can consent to your own treatment, the doctor does not have to keep the pregnancy and treatment a secret from your parents. Of course, your medical care is confidential as to any other person.

Can I donate blood if I am minor?

Unless you qualify on a basis that allows you to consent to your own treatment, such as being pregnant, you must have your parent's permission to give blood.

Can I get an abortion without my parent's consent?

No. Laws called parental notification acts typically require physicians to notify parents before an abortion is performed unless your life is in immediate danger.

SIDEBAR: A court can issue an order giving a minor the authority to consent over her parent's objections.

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