Parental-rights measure is debated in Annapolis Bill would require parental consent for medical treatment.

March 13, 1991|By Marina Sarris | Marina Sarris,Evening Sun Staff

Should physicians be required to obtain a parent's consent before treating a child for drug abuse, alcoholism or venereal disease or providing the youngster with prenatal care or sterilization?

Yes, said several parents and members of groups that champion "traditional family values."

They traveled to Annapolis yesterday to support a parental-rights bill that would require a parent's or guardian's consent for such treatment.

Several physicians and counselors, however, also turned out to argue that some teen-agers would refuse to seek treatment if they had to tell their parents about it.

The bill before the House of Delegates Environmental Matters Committee elicited a debate that carried both ethical and medical overtones.

Both sides said they favor the involvement of parents in their children's medical problems. They differed, however, on what to do in the cases of children who are too afraid to tell their parents that they have a venereal disease or abuse drugs, for example.

The bill's chief sponsor, Del. Martha S. Klima, R-Balto. Co., said, "What I would like to see is that the family gets back together." By requiring parental consent, she said, parents would get "back in the loop" of decision-making.

She acknowledged that the bill might make it easier for parents to punish errant children -- "and rightfully so." The bill would exempt children who are being treated for abuse caused by a parent.

Mary Williams, of Concerned Women for America of Maryland, said lawmakers are deceiving themselves if they think they can solve the problems of teen pregnancy, drug abuse, alcoholism and venereal disease without parent involvement.

But the bill's opponents, including several pediatricians, argued that some children may avoid treatment for venereal disease and postpone prenatal care if forced to notify their parents immediately.

Dr. Marianne E. Felice, a Baltimore pediatrician, said most parents know about their children's treatment for such problems. In some cases, however, teen-agers believe they cannot tell their parents or they need time to do so, she said. Those teens might delay important treatment until obtaining parental consent, several opponents of the bill argued.

Del. Delores G. Kelley, D-City, wondered if the bill was unrealistic for children who live in troubled homes.

"You don't think you might be trying to impose a 'Leave It to Beaver'-type family model on the whole world?" she asked.

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