What are the legal rights of children in medical decision-making in New York?

Understanding the Legal Rights of Children in Medical Decision-Making in New York

In New York, as in many jurisdictions, the rights of children in medical decision-making are governed by a combination of state laws, case law, and regulations that establish when minors may consent to their own medical treatment and when parental or guardian consent is necessary. Understanding these laws is crucial for healthcare providers, parents, and minors themselves to navigate the complex environment of pediatric healthcare.

Age of Consent for Medical Treatment

In general, New York State law requires individuals to be 18 years of age or older to give legal consent for medical treatment. However, there are exceptions where minors can make decisions regarding their health care. For instance, under the New York Public Health Law § 2305, minors who are married or are parents have the right to consent to their own medical, dental, health and hospital services without parental involvement.

Minors' Rights to Confidential Services

There are certain areas where minors may consent to medical care without parental consent regardless of their age. These include:

Emergencies and Special Circumstances

In emergency situations where a delay in treatment would pose an immediate threat to the minor's health or well-being, healthcare providers may render necessary treatment without parental consent. This principle is rooted in the legal doctrine of 'implied consent.' Additionally, courts can grant authority for medical treatment via a court order if it's in the child’s best interest and if parents refuse necessary treatment due to religious beliefs or other reasons.

The Role of Emancipated Minors

An emancipated minor is one who has been legally declared independent from their parents or guardians. In New York, emancipated minors have the same capacity as adults to make decisions regarding their medical care.

Court Decisions Influencing Minors’ Rights

Historical court cases have helped shape current understanding and practices around minors’ rights in medical decision-making. One landmark case is In re E.G., which involved a 17-year-old refusing life-saving blood transfusions due to religious beliefs. The court ultimately ruled that competent minors could refuse treatment if it was determined they understood the consequences.


The legal rights of children in medical decision-making in New York are characterized by a balance between protecting the child’s welfare and recognizing their evolving capacity for autonomy. While parents generally hold the right to consent for their underage children’s medical treatments, exceptions exist that empower minors with certain decision-making capabilities regarding their healthcare.