Complexities of Consent: Ethics in the Pediatric Emergency Department

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Informed consent is a communicative process of sharing information with patients, which helps assure their understanding of the information provided and asks for their permission to proceed. Informed consent allows a patient or a patient's family to use his or her own value system to determine the need for a particular procedure or test. Asking a patient for permission to treat requires the provider to respect the patient's autonomy through allowing him or her to be an active part of the decision-making process. Consent in the pediatric emergency department can be a complex process. Parental consent is generally required for medical evaluation and treatment of pediatric patients, but in the pediatric emergency department, there are exceptions to this rule. If the provider determines that a parent's refusal of consent places the child at risk of harm, then consent is not necessary. By using the concepts of Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act, in emergent situations, consent may not be necessary. Finally, adolescents are often deeply concerned about privacy—their acceptance of appropriate care is often based on this promise of confidentiality. In the emergency department, adolescents can therefore be treated for issues relating to reproductive care without parental consent. It is important for the emergency department physician to understand the rules surrounding the care of pediatric patients to avoid compromising their privacy and ultimately their well-being and medical care.

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