(AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
State laws allowing minors to consent to healthcare, including vaccination, are neither uncommon nor controversial. In this instance, the District of Columbia’s Minor Consent Act is a public health law protecting minors’ access to medical care. It permits minors capable of informed consent to obtain vaccines if they so choose in specific circumstances. The Act, and others like it, are important to ensuring access to life-saving health care.
The D.C. Minor Consent Act is currently being challenged in two separate cases in federal court—despite being entirely consistent with medical best practices, public health, constitutional requirements, and federal law. The medical community and the law have long recognized that minors are capable of informed consent to medical care in certain circumstances. In most cases, parental involvement and consent to their children’s healthcare is a key goal and prerequisite of pediatric practice, but occasionally parental involvement is impossible, impractical, or even harmful. In such unfortunate instances, it is crucial that minors who are capable of providing informed consent have a method to access needed medical care.
The growing threat of vaccine hesitancy has led to steep declines in vaccination rates in the United States. Recent outbreaks have occurred for measles and pertussis, both primarily afflicting unvaccinated children. Allowing minors capable of informed consent to obtain vaccines if they so choose is an important step toward reversing these trends.
We filed amicus briefs in both cases—on behalf of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association, the Medical Society of the District of Columbia, the Washington D.C. chapter of the AAP, and the Society of Adolescent Health and Medicine—urging the court to dismiss the challenges and uphold the District’s Minor Consent Act. The briefs were filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on August 6 and August 12.