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Minors Can Get Counseling Without Telling Parents…But Can’t Tan

There is an interesting juxtaposition of bills affecting the rights of minors going through the Oregon legislature these days. One that gives minors more rights, and one that takes rights away. I’m in favor of both of them – giving rights with one hand, and taking them away with the other.

Senate Bill 491 – Teens Can Get Counseling

Senate Bill 491 passed the Senate 26-3, but has not been voted on by the House yet. This bill would allow children who are 14 or older to get mental health treatment for depression or other emotional issues, including drug addiction, without parental consent. Kids cannot get methadone treatment for their drug addiction under this bill, just counseling.

In an interesting twist, the bill tries (and I think succeeds) to have it both ways by specifying that the treating doctor must involve the parents before the end of treatment, “unless there are clear clinical indications to the contrary.” I like it. As the parent of a 13-year-old, I think it’s a reasonable compromise. With this bill, a doctor can say truthfully to a child 14 or older, “you can come in for treatment and you don’t have to tell your parents.” Then, at some point during the treatment, before it ends (but after some progress has been made), the doctor can say, “Now that you’re well on your way to recovery, I’d like to get your parents involved.”

By the time this conversation comes up, the minor will have learned to trust the doctor, and hopefully be open to the conversation. If not, and if there is a “clear clinical” reason not to bring the parents in (the first example that springs to my mind is if the parents were supplying the child with drugs in the first place) then the doctor has the leeway to leave the parents out. But only if the medical reason is “clear,” and the doctor documents this in the medical records.

House Bill 2896 – Teens Banned from Tanning

Meanwhile, House Bill 2896 would make it illegal for minors to use tanning beds unless they have a doctor’s note. Even parental permission would not suffice. The bill was supported by the Oregon Medical Association and several cancer specialists. The main testimony against it was by Joseph Levy a representative of the tanning bed industry, who told the House that “to say any sun is damaging is like saying water causes drowning so you shouldn’t use water.” That’s an absurd analogy, of course, since every exposure to UV rays does in fact increase the chances of a person getting melanoma. I don’t increase my chances of drowning every time I shower.

So the State gives minors certain rights, and takes away others.

I like both bills, but I like the counseling bill more. The tanning bed bill passed the House 38-18, with all 18 “no” votes being Republicans. I do support this bill, really. But I also have some doubts. Despite the clear health hazards and the dubious benefits, I’m not all that eager to ban something that harms the user but nobody else. Still, this bill applies only to minors, and I support it. I suppose children’s health is more important to me than their right to do stupid things. Just don’t tell my 13-year-old.