The law, in most instances (with the notable exception of consuming alcohol), views an adult as one who reaches age 18. As any parent knows, most 18 year olds are not mature enough to make important decisions without the guidance of a parent or other adult.
Yet, what most don’t realize is that legally, parents no longer automatically have the right to make decisions for their children as they have done for the first 18 years of their lives. 18 year olds have the ability to enter into contracts and make other financially binding decisions as well as make medical decisions for themselves.
Conversely, parents do not have an automatic right to speak with their children’s doctors and make decisions on their behalf. That can be both surprising and frustrating for parents. When our oldest child went off to college, about a month into his first semester at the University of Pittsburgh he went to see a doctor at the university hospital.
He was presented with a diagnosis and prescribed medication. My wife, Laurie, asked him whether he had asked the physician some obvious and important questions, ones that an adult having been through the experience of consulting with doctors on numerous occasions would have asked. Sure, he had been to the doctor many times in his first 18 years but as a parent she always spoke to the doctor and made the decisions. This was a first time experience for Andrew.
We prepared for this before he left for college by preparing and having him execute both a health care and a financial power of attorney. Only after she faxed the health care power of attorney to the doctor’s office would they speak with her so she could get the important information to be able to guide Andrew.
We can’t make the decisions for him, but the HIPAA authorization language contained in that document, allows us access to his medical records and direct access to his doctors. We now have input into his decision making process, something we always had when he was a minor, but lost once he turned 18.
But, what would happen if, let’s say, Andrew wanted to go ahead with a medical procedure that we think is ill advised? What if we believed his decision making ability to be impaired and that his desire to undergo the procedure was indicative of his inability to make decisions for himself? Can we prevent that from happening, and if so, how do we go about it?
Stay tuned. We’ll discuss that next week.