Recently, the "age of consent" issue has taken center stage in the news.
Stories like the Today Show's Should Kids Have Plastic Surgery to Avoid Bullying raise the question of what is the appropriate age for making treatment decisions. Anesthesiology News published an article, Fourteen – A Magic Number for Clinical Care?, in its April issue. So, what is the appropriate age of consent?
Age of Consent
The Anesthesiology News article states choosing treatment options "begins with an assessment of whether the child has the ability to decide for himself or herself." It further explains that sufficient reasoning abilities are developed by age 14.
Robert C. Goldstein, MD, executive vice president and chief medical officer of Somnia Anesthesia explains being “put to sleep” with anesthesia can mean different things at different ages. "For example, pre-teens and teens may fear waking up during surgery. For children at other stages, the fear may be not waking up." Older teens undergoing surgery may also have concerns about privacy and body image, and whether they will feel pain during and after the procedure.
Health care providers must balance teenagers' need for control over their bodies with the health and legal obligations of providing anesthesia care that puts safety first. If a teenager refuses anesthesia care, the physician cannot provide appropriate care. Dr. Goldstein says it is important that teens be active participants in conversations with physicians and nurses about the anesthetic and surgical care they will receive.
The appropriate age of consent is as individual as the patient receiving care.