Consent And Body Modification in Minors
Consent is as the principle by which certain individuals must obtain permission before they are allowed to perform certain activities or undergo medical procedures ranging from blood tests to immunizations to operations. Minors do not have the lawful capacity, or indeed, the mental maturity required to make decisions for themselves. These decisions, then, fall to their parent or guardian to make in their stead, generally in the form of parental consent. For consent to be valid, it must be informed, understood, and voluntary, and the person consenting must have the capacity to make the decision. This law implies that, as long as a child’s parent or guardian is fully informed of and understands the aspects of a decision they have to make for a minor in their care, they are lawfully allowed to do so in most countries (as consent derives from the principle of autonomy). It is irrelevant whether a third party believes that, for example, immunizations, are medically necessary, or whether circumcision is religiously necessary—the law implies that the parent or guardian of the child reserves the right to make that decision.
A minor is obliged to obtain parental consent for a number of procedures and practices with potential for harm. An example is immunizations against certain communicable diseases. The authors have previously touched on the potential harm of immunizations and parental consent required for immunization of their children. Many immunizations, such as MMR, Varicella, and DTaP, have a number of potential moderate to severe ; nonetheless, all 50 US states these and other vaccines for entry into public schools and universities. Parental consent is still required for these vaccines, and parents do retain the right to opt their child out of them; however, they then deprive their children of many activities and benefits, such as attending public school and, down the road, university, as state laws require these vaccinations in order for children to be allowed to attend such institutions. However, at the end of the day, it is the parents who ultimately decide whether or not to get their child vaccinated against diseases, regardless of , , or public perception.
Another example is body modification of minors in the form of tattoos. Although the of getting a tattoo (including local inflammation, rashes, and infections, and, less frequently, severe consequences such as contraction of Hepatitis B or HIV) are well-known, the allow minors to get a tattoo with parental consent (37 out of 50 states). Four states do not have laws in place regulating tattoos for minors at all. Only six states require the consent or presence of a licensed physician or medical personnel. Given that there are so many potential complications involved in getting a tattoo, the laws regulating such a (purely aesthetic) procedure are not very stringent, which is due to the fact that the state deems such decisions the right of the parent to make for their child.
All of that being said, the caveat of parental consent is that there must be a minimum legal standard of harm in all such decisions. For example, while circumcision, a procedure that has fewer and less severe potentially harmful consequences than vaccines, should fall under the jurisdiction of parental consent, FGM can never be justified in such a manner or, indeed, in any manner.