Doctors will have to tell parents about their teenagers’ health. Lawyers explain whether this is good or bad

How else could one look after their children and what can the new law turn out to be?
Irina Sycheva | 11 August 2020
Doctors will have to tell parents about their teenagers’ health. Lawyers explain whether this is good or bad

The Federation Council approved amendments to the law on the basics of citizens’ health protection, which give parents and guardians the right to receive information about the health of their older adolescent children. Now doctors will be required to provide parents with the information about the health of 15-18-year-old teenagers without the consent of the children themselves.

Lawyers told Pravmir about pros and cons of the adopted law.

It is difficult to look after children if they hide information from their parents

Elena Kupriyanova, a family law attorney:

Until recently, parents could receive information about the health condition of a teenager over the age of 15 only with the teenager’s consent. And if the child stated that they were not going to share information from their medical records, then doctors were not able to disclose their medical secrets.

Not so long ago, the legislator adopted a decision that allows parents to learn about their teenage children’s health regardless of their desire or lack thereof.

Parents or legal representatives of a teenager under the age of 18 are responsible for them, in particular, for their health, psychological condition, and their behavior.

Parents are held accountable for improper parenting. Yet, what if the reason for the deviant behavior of teenagers is not parenting, but health issues?

How parents can take care of their children’s health if their health condition is hidden from them? In case of objections on the child’s part, parents were not objectively able to fulfill their parental obligations and rights. That is why it was necessary to exclude the consent of the child.

The opponents of this legislative novelty point out that in a number of families, physical or psychological violence against teenagers may take place on the basis of parents’ knowledge about children taking drugs, drinking alcohol, smoking, early start of girls’ sexual life, or early pregnancy. Of course, this is highly undesirable.

However, how often do parents find out about this in a hospital? Very rarely, I suppose. Yet, you cannot learn about serious psychiatric conditions other than at a doctor’s appointment.

We must remember that 15-18-year-old teenagers do not always understand what is extremely important in their diagnoses and what is not so much. Therefore, they often decide to hide their diagnoses from parents spontaneously or “for the sake of the company” when their parents could actually help them.

When making a diagnosis, a doctor may see the child for the first time in their life, and parents know their children much better. They know all their peculiarities that are not always reflected in the medical record that a doctor sees in front of them.

How will the regulation work? Technically, a child from the age of 15 can come to the doctor alone and sign the “Informed Voluntary Consent” document to receive medical care. However, the law does not specify what a doctor should do if the parent did not come along with the child and did not express a desire to talk to the doctor later.

Most likely, there will be a mandatory notification if any serious issues are found. Yet, parents themselves should make sure that the doctor gets their contact information.

The new law does not specify in detail how information should be provided. Does this mean that the doctor should do this on their own initiative? It is yet not clear.

Obviously, there will be some by-laws, regulations, orders, or instructions, which will clarify the doctors’ procedure. Then we will see how it works.

At the moment, when examining girls, the doctor is obliged to report to law enforcement agencies if the doctor finds that a girl under the age of 16 has a sexual partner, who is older than 18, since this is a criminal offence (article 134 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation), especially if there are signs of sexual abuse or pregnancy. And here is an abnormal situation. The parents have not yet been notified, but the investigator has been.

In order to prevent domestic violence and the treatment of adolescents in illegal clinics, crisis centers should be established for those cases when a teenager fears that the information received by their parents about their health condition may result in beatings, harassment, and similar phenomena. Teenagers should be given an explanation in schools that there are guardianship authorities and about what they do.

They will go to illegal medical centers so that their parents do not find anything out

Galina Ibryanova, a lawyer:

The adoption of this law is a complex issue. I cannot yet decide whether there is more good or bad.

For those adolescents, who experience domestic violence, these amendments mean additional risks associated with psychological or physical violence.

However, if the child cannot make a health-related decision on their own and the family supports them, the disclosure of this information will have a positive effect.

Nowadays, children grow up early and are able to make decisions about how to plan their life. Let’s say, if a girl gets pregnant at 16, then she can make her own decisions on how to proceed. Moreover, marriages from the age of 16 are allowed in our country under certain conditions.

As for teenagers who turn to human rights organizations in connection to domestic violence, this is an additional risk for them. Parents may come to the clinic, ask for medical information, and find out that their girl is sexually active or smokes, as well as they may receive information about some diseases, because of which she went to a doctor. If we are talking about domestic violence situation, then all this information may make matters for the teenager in the family worse.

Teenagers may start going more often to some illegal medical centers that provide low-quality services in order to avoid their health information being disclosed. They are not always inclined to tell their parents about their problems even if everything is fine in the family relations.

We conducted a survey on what problems teenagers face most often. One of the most common answers was that they were afraid to tell their parents about something. They were afraid of not getting support, of being judged, and of being punished. Therefore, given the current state of affairs and teenagers’ problems that they can talk about, this law may be a reason for either teenagers seeking unqualified medical care or a poorly timed visit to a doctor.

Translated by Julia Frolova

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